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HANDBOUND 
AT THE 






THE RENAISSANCE 



MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED 

LONDON . BOMBAY CALCUTTA MADRAS 
MELBOURNE 

THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 

NEW YORK BOSTON . CHICAGO 
DALLAS SAN FRANCISCO 

THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD. 

TORONTO 



THE RENAISSANCE 



STUDIES IN ART AND POETRY 



BY 

WALTER PATER 



MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED 

ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON 

1919 



COPYRIGHT 



N 


P3 



First Edition 1873 

Second Edition 1877 

Third Edition-ISA* 

Fourth Edition 1893 ; Reprinted 1899, 1900 

Edition de Luxe 1900 

Fifth Edition 1901 ; Reprinted 1902, 1904, 1906, 1907 
Library Edition 1910 ; Reprinted. 1910, 1912, 1913, 1914, 
1919 




935249 



DEDICATION 

TO 

C. L. S, 



FEBRUARY 1873 



PREFACE 

MANY attempts have been made by writers on 
art and poetry to define beauty in the abstract, to 
express it in the most general terms, to find some 
universal formula for it. The value of these 
attempts has most often been in the suggestive 
and penetrating things said by the way. Such 
discussions help us very little to enjoy what has 
been well done in art or poetry, to discriminate 
between what is more and what is less excellent 
in them, or to use words like beauty, excellence, 
art,' poetry, with a more precise meaning than 
they would otherwise have. Beauty, like all 
other qualities presented to human experience, is 
relative ; and the definition of it becomes un- 
meaning and useless in proportion to its abstract- 
ness. To define beauty, not in the most abstract 
but in the most concrete terms possible, to 
find not its universal formula, but the formula 
which expresses most adequately this or that 



vn 



THE RENAISSANCE 

special manifestation of it, is the aim of the true 
student of aesthetics. 

" To see the object as in itself it really is," 
has been justly said to be the aim of all true 
criticism whatever ; and in aesthetic criticism the 
first step towards seeing one's object as it really is, 
is to know one's own impression as it really is, 
to discriminate it, to realise it distinctly. The 
objects with which aesthetic criticism deals 
music, poetry, artistic and accomplished forms of 
human life are indeed receptacles of so many 
powers or forces : they possess, like the products 
of nature, so many virtues or qualities. What is 
this song or picture, this engaging personality 
presented in life or . in a book, to me ? What 
effect does it really produce on me ? Does it 
give me pleasure ? and if so, what sort or degree 
of pleasure ? How is my nature modified by its 
presence, and under its influence ? The answers 
to these questions are the original facts with 
which the aesthetic critic has to do ; and, as in 
the study of light, of morals, of number, one must 
realise such primary data for one's self, or not 
at all. And he who experiences these impressions 
strongly, and drives directly at the discrimination 
and analysis of them, has no need to trouble 
himself with the abstract question what beauty 
is in itself, or what its exact relation to truth or 

viii 



PREFACE 

experience metaphysical questions, as unprofit- 
able as metaphysical questions elsewhere. He 
may pass them all by as being, answerable or 
not, of no interest to him. 

The aesthetic critic, then, regards all the 
objects with which he has to do, all works of art, 
and the fairer forms of nature and human life, as 
powers or forces producing pleasurable sensations, 
each of a more or less peculiar or unique kind. 
This influence he feels, and wishes to explain, 
by analysing and reducing it to its elements. To 
him, the picture, the landscape, the engaging 
personality in life or in a book, La Gioconda^ the 
hills of Carrara, Pico of Mirandola, are valuable 
for their virtues, as we say, in speaking of a herb, 
a wine, a gem ; for the property each has of 
affecting one with a special, a unique, impression 
of pleasure. Our education becomes complete 
in proportion as our susceptibility to these im- 
pressions increases in depth and variety. And 
the function of the aesthetic critic is to distinguish, 
to analyse, and separate from its adjuncts, the 
virtue by which a picture, a landscape, a fair 
personality in life or in a book, produces this 
special impression of beauty or pleasure, to in- 
dicate what the source of that impression is, and 
under what conditions it is experienced. His 
end is reached when he has disengaged that 

ix 



THE RENAISSANCE 

virtue, and noted it, as a chemist notes some 
natural element, for himself and others ; and 
the rule for those who would reach this end is 
stated with great exactness in the words of a 
recent critic of Sainte-Beuve : De se borner a 
connaitre de pres les belles chases^ et h s'en nourrir 
en exquis amateurs^ en humanistes accomplis. 

What is important, then, is not that the critic 
should possess a correct abstract definition of 
beauty for the intellect, but a certain kind of 
temperament, the power of being deeply moved 
by the presence of beautiful objects. He will 
remember always that beauty exists in many 
forms. To him ail periods, types, schools of 
taste, are in themselves equal. In all ages there 
have been some excellent workmen, and some 
excellent work done. The question he asks is 
always : In whom did the stir, the genius, the 
sentiment of the period find itself? where was 
the receptacle of its refinement, its elevation, its 
taste ? " The ages are all equal," says William 
Blake, " but genius is always above its age." 

Often it will require great nicety to disengage 
this virtue from the commoner elements with 
which it may be found in combination. Few 
artists, not Goethe or Byron even, work quite 
cleanly, casting off all dtbris^ and leaving us only 
what the heat of their imagination has wholly 



PREFACE 

fused and transformed. Take, for instance, the 
writings of Wordsworth. The heat of his 
genius, entering into the substance of his work, 
has crystallised a part, but only a part, of it ; and 
in that great mass of verse there is much which 
might well be forgotten. But scattered up and 
down it, sometimes fusing and transforming entire 
compositions, like the Stanzas on Resolution and 
Independence, or the Ode on the Recollections of 
Childhood, sometimes, as if at random, depositing 
a fine crystal here or there, in a matter it does 
not wholly search through and transmute, we 
trace the action of his unique, incommunicable 
faculty, that strange, mystical sense of a life in 
natural things, and of man's life as a part of 
nature, drawing strength and colour and character 
from local influences, from the hills and streams, 
and from natural sights and sounds. Well ! that 
is the virtue, the active principle in Wordsworth's 
poetry ; and then the function of the critic of 
Wordsworth is to follow up that active principle, 
to disengage it, to mark the degree in which it 
penetrates his verse. 

The subjects of the following studies are taken 
from the history of the Renaissance, and touch 
what I think the chief points in that complex, 
many-sided movement. I have explained in the 
first of them what I understand by the word, 



XI 



THE RENAISSANCE 

giving it a much wider scope than was intended 
by those who originally used it to denote 
that revival of classical antiquity in the fifteenth 
century which was only one of many results of 
a general excitement and enlightening of the 
human mind, but of which the great aim and 
achievements of what, as Christian art, is often 
falsely opposed to the Renaissance, were another 
result. This outbreak of the human spirit may 
be traced far into the middle age itself, with its 
motives already clearly pronounced, the care for 
physical beauty, the worship of the body, the 
breaking down of those limits which the religious 
system of the middle age imposed on the heart 
and the imagination. I have taken as an example 
of this movement, this earlier Renaissance within 
the middle age itself, and as an expression of its 
qualities, two little compositions in early French ; 
not because they constitute the best possible 
expression of them, but because they help the 
unity of my series, inasmuch as the Renaissance 
ends also in France, in French poetry, in a phase 
of which the writings of Joachim du Bellay are 
in many ways the most perfect illustration. The 
Renaissance, in truth, put forth in France an after- 
math, a wonderful later growth, the products of 
which have to the full that subtle and delicate 

sweetness which belongs to a refined and comely 

xii 



PREFACE 

decadence, just as its earliest phases have the 
freshness which belongs to all periods of growth 
in art, the charm of ascesis, of the austere and 
serious girding of the loins in youth. 

But it is in Italy, in the fifteenth century, that 
the interest of the Renaissance mainly lies, in 
that solemn fifteenth century which can hardly 
be studied too much, not merely for its positive 
results in the things of the intellect and the 
imagination, its concrete works of art, its special 
and prominent personalities, with their profound 
aesthetic charm, but for its general spirit and 
character, for the ethical qualities of which it is 
a consummate type. 

The various forms of intellectual activity 
which together make up the culture of an age, 
move for the most part from different starting- 
points, and by unconnected roads. As products 
of the same generation they partake indeed of a 
common character, and unconsciously illustrate 
each other ; but of the producers themselves, each 
group is solitary, gaining what advantage or dis- 
advantage there may be in intellectual isolation. 
Art and poetry, philosophy and the religious life, 
and that other life of refined pleasure and action 
in the conspicuous places of the world, are each of 
them confined to its own circle of ideas, and those 
who prosecute either of them are generally little 



Xlll 



THE RENAISSANCE 

curious of the thoughts of others. There come, 
however, from time to time, eras of more favour- 
able conditions, in which the thoughts of men 
draw nearer together than is their wont, and the 
many interests of the intellectual world combine 
in one complete type of general culture. The 
fifteenth century in Italy is one of these happier 
eras, and what is sometimes said of the age of 
Pericles is true of that of Lorenzo : it is an age 
productive in personalities, many-sided, central- 
ised, complete. Here, artists and philosophers 
and those whom the action of the world has 
elevated and made keen, do not live in isolation, 
but breathe a common air, and catch light and 
heat from each other's thoughts. There is a 
spirit of general elevation and enlightenment 
in which all alike communicate. The unity 
of this spirit gives unity to all the various 
products of the Renaissance ; and it is to this 
intimate alliance with mind, this participation in 
the best thoughts which that age produced, that 
the art of Italy in the fifteenth century owes 
much of its grave dignity and influence. 

I have added an essay on Winckelmann, as not 
incongruous with the studies which precede it, 
because Winckelmann, coming in the eighteenth 
century, really belongs in spirit to an earlier age. 
By his enthusiasm for the things of the intellect 

xiv 



PREFACE 

and the imagination for their own sake, by his 
Hellenism, his life -long struggle to attain to 
the Greek spirit, he is in sympathy with the 
humanists of a previous century. He is the last 
fruit of the Renaissance, and explains in a strik- 
ing way its motive and tendencies. 

1873- 



xv 



CONTENTS 



PAGE 

TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES i 

PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA . . . . .30 

SANDRO BOTTICELLI 50 

LUCA DELLA ROBBIA 63 

THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO. . . .73 

LEONARDO DA VINCI . . . . . .98 

THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE . . .130 

JOACHIM DU BELL AY . . . .155 

WINCKELMANN ... . 177 

CONCLUSION . . 233 



Yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove. 



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES 

THE history of the Renaissance ends in France, 
and carries us away from Italy to the beautiful 
cities of the country of the Loire. But it was 
in France also, in a very important sense, that 
the Renaissance had begun. French writers, 
who are fond of connecting the creations of 
Italian genius with a French origin, who tell us 
how Saint Francis of Assisi took not his name only, 
but all those notions of chivalry and romantic love 
which so deeply penetrated his thoughts, from a 
French source, how Boccaccio borrowed the out- 
lines of his stories from the old French fabliaux^ 
and how Dante himself expressly connects the 
origin of the art of miniature-painting with the 
city of Paris, have often dwelt on this notion of 
a Renaissance in the end of the twelfth and the 
beginning of the thirteenth century, a Renais- 
sance within the limits of the middle age itself 
a brilliant, but in part abortive effort to do for 
human life and the human mind what was after- 
wards done in the fifteenth. The word Renais- 
sance^ indeed, is now generally used to denote not 
B i 



THE RENAISSANCE 

merely the revival of classical antiquity which 
took place in the fifteenth century, and to which 
the word was first applied, but a whole complex 
movement, of which that revival of classical 
antiquity was but one element or symptom. For 
us the Renaissance is the name of a many-sided 
but yet united movement, in which the love of 
the things of the intellect and the imagination 
for their own sake, the desire for a more liberal 
and comely way of conceiving life, make 
themselves felt, urging those who experience 
this desire to search out first one and then 
another means of intellectual or imaginative 
enjoyment, and directing them not only to the 
discovery of old and forgotten sources of this 
enjoyment, but to the divination of fresh sources 
thereof new experiences, new subjects of poetry, 
new forms of art. Of such feeling there was a 
great outbreak in the end of the twelfth and the 
beginning of the following century. Here and 
there, under rare and happy conditions, in Pointed 
architecture, in the doctrines of romantic love, in 
the poetry of Provence, the rude strength of the 
middle age turns to sweetness ; and the taste for 
sweetness generated there becomes the seed of the 
classical revival in it, prompting it constantly to 
seek after the springs of perfect sweetness in the 
Hellenic world. And coming after a long period 
in which this instinct had been crushed, that 
true " dark age," in which so many sources 
of intellectual and imaginative enjoyment had 



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES 

actually disappeared, this outbreak is rightly 
called a Renaissance, a revival. 

Theories which bring into connexion with 
each other modes of thought and feeling, periods 
of taste, forms of art and poetry, which the narrow- 
ness of men's minds constantly tends to oppose to 
each other, have a great stimulus for the intellect, 
and are almost always worth understanding. It 
is so with this theory of a Renaissance within 
the middle age, which seeks to establish a con- 
tinuity between the most characteristic work of 
that period, the sculpture of Chartres, the 
windows of Le Mans, and the work of the later 
Renaissance, the work of Jean Cousin and Germain 
Pilon, thus healing that rupture between the 
middle age and the Renaissance which has so 
often been exaggerated. But it is not so much 
the ecclesiastical art of the middle age, its 
sculpture and painting work certainly done in 
a great measure for pleasure's sake, in which 
even a secular, a rebellious spirit often betrays 
itself but rather its profane poetry, the poetry 
of Provence, and the magnificent after-growth 
of that poetry in Italy and France, which those 
French writers have in view when they speak 
of this medieval Renaissance. In that poetry, 
earthly passion, with its intimacy, its freedom, 
its variety the liberty of the heart makes 
itself felt ; and the name of Abelard, the 
great scholar and the great lover, connects the 
expression of this liberty of heart with the free 

3 



THE RENAISSANCE 

play of human intelligence around all subjects 
presented to it, with the liberty of the intellect, 
as that age understood it. 

Every one knows the legend of Abelard, a 
legend hardly less passionate, certainly not less 
characteristic of the middle age, than the legend 
of Tannhauser ; how the famous and comely clerk, 
in whom Wisdom herself, self-possessed, pleasant, 
and discreet, seemed to sit enthroned, came to live 
in the house of a canon of the church of Notre- 
Dame, where dwelt a girl, Heloi'se, believed to 
be the old priest's orphan niece ; how the old 
priest had testified his love for her by giving her 
an education then unrivalled, so that rumour 
asserted that, through the knowledge of languages, 
enabling her to penetrate into the mysteries of 
the older world, she had become a sorceress, like 
the Celtic druidesses ; and how as Abelard and 
Heloi'se sat together at home there, to refine a little 
further on the nature of abstract ideas, " Love 
made himself of the party with them." You con- 
ceive the temptations of the scholar, who, in such 
dreamy tranquillity, amid the bright and busy 
spectacle of the " Island," lived in a world of some- 
thing like shadows ; and that for one who knew so 
well how to assign its exact value to every abstract 
thought, those restraints which lie on the con- 
sciences of other men had been relaxed. It appears 
that he composed many verses in the vulgar tongue: 
already the young men sang them on the quay be- 
low the house. Those songs, says M. de Remusat, 

4 



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES 

were probably in the taste of the Trouveres, " of 
whom he was one of the first in date, or, so to 
speak, the predecessor." It is the same spirit 
which has moulded the famous " letters," written 
in the quaint Latin of the middle age. 

At the foot of that early Gothic tower, which 
the next generation raised to grace the precincts 
of Abelard's school, on the " Mountain of Saint 
Genevieve," the historian Michelet sees in 
thought " a terrible assembly ; not the hearers of 
Abelard alone, fifty bishops, twenty cardinals, 
two popes, the whole body of scholastic philo- 
sophy ; not only the learned Heloise, the teach- 
ing of languages, and the Renaissance ; ' but 
Arnold of Brescia- that is to say, the revolution." 
And so from the rooms of this shadowy house 
by the Seine side we see that spirit going abroad, 
with its qualities already well defined, its intimacy, 
its languid sweetness, its rebellion, its subtle skill 
in dividing the elements of human passion, its 
care for physical beauty, its worship of the body, 
which penetrated the early literature of Italy, 
and finds an echo even in Dante. 

That Abelard is not mentioned in the Divine 
Comedy may appear a singular omission to the 
reader of Dante, who seems to have inwoven into 
the texture of his work whatever had impressed 
him as either effective in colour or spiritually 
significant among the recorded incidents of actual 
life. Nowhere in his great poem do we find the 
name, nor so much as an allusion to the story of 

5 



THE RENAISSANCE 

one who had left so deep a mark on the 
philosophy of which Dante was an eager student, 
of whom in the Latin Quarter^ and from the lips 
of scholar or teacher in the University of Paris, 
during his sojourn among them, he can hardly 
have failed to hear. We can only suppose that 
he had indeed considered the story and the man, 
and abstained from passing judgment as to his 
place in the scheme of " eternal justice." 

In the famous legend of Tannhauser, the 
erring knight makes his way to Rome, to seek 
absolution at the centre of Christian religion. 
" So soon," thought and said the Pope, " as the 
staff in his hand should bud and blossom, so 
soon might the soul of Tannhauser be saved, and 
no sooner " ; and it came to pass not long after 
that the dry wood of a staff which the Pope had 
carried in his hand was covered with leaves and 
flowers. So, in the cloister of Godstow, a 
petrified tree was shown of which the nuns told 
that the fair Rosamond, who had died among 
them, had .declared that, the tree being then 
alive and green, it would be changed into stone 
at the hour of her salvation. When Abelard 
died, like Tannhauser, he was on his way to 
Rome. What might have happened had he 
reached his journey's end is uncertain ; and it is 
in this uncertain twilight that his relation to the 
general beliefs of his age has always remained. 
In this, as in other things, he prefigures the 
character of the Renaissance, that movement in 

6 



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES 

which, in various ways, the human mind wins 
for itself a new kingdom of feeling and sensation 
and thought, not opposed to but only beyond 
and independent of the spiritual system then 
actually realised. The opposition into which 
Abelard is thrown, which gives its colour to his 
career, which breaks his soul to pieces, is a no 
less subtle opposition than that between the 
merely professional, official, hireling ministers of 
that system, with their ignorant worship of 
system for its own sake, and the true child of 
light, the humanist, with reason and heart and 
senses quick, while theirs were almost dead. 
He reaches out towards, he attains, modes of 
ideal living, beyond the prescribed limits of that 
system, though in essential germ, it may be, 
contained within it. As always happens, the ad- 
herents of the poorer and narrower culture had 
no sympathy with, because no understanding of, 
a culture richer and more ample than their own. 
After the discovery of wheat they would still live 
upon acorns apres r invention du ble Us *uou latent 
encore vivre du gland ; and would hear of no 
service to the higher needs of humanity with 
instruments not of their forging. 

But the human spirit, bold through those 
needs, was too strong for them. Abelard and 
Heloise write their letters letters with a 
wonderful outpouring of soul in medieval 
Latin ; and Abelard, though he composes songs 
in the vulgar tongue, writes also in Latin those 

7 



THE RENAISSANCE 

treatises in which he tries to find a ground of 
reality below the abstractions of philosophy, as 
one bent on trying all things by their congruity 
with human experience, who had felt the hand 
of Heloise, and looked into her eyes, and tested 
the resources of humanity in her great and 
energetic nature. Yet it is only a little later, 
early in the thirteenth century, that French prose 
romance begins ; and in one of the pretty 
volumes of the Bibliotheque Elzevir ienne some of 
the most striking fragments of it may be found, 
edited with much intelligence. In one of these 
thirteenth-century stories, Li Amitiez de Ami et 
Amile, that free play of human affection, of the 
claims of which Abelard's story is an assertion, 
makes itself felt in the incidents of a great 
friendship, a friendship pure and generous, 
pushed to a sort of passionate exaltation, and 
more than faithful unto death. Such comrade- 
ship, though instances of it are to be found 
everywhere, is still especially a classical motive ; 
Chaucer expressing the sentiment of it so strongly 
in an antique tale, that one knows not whether 
the love of both Palamon and Arcite for Emelya, 
or of those two for each other, is the chiefer 
subject of the Knight's Tale 

He cast his eyen upon Emelya, 

And therewithal he bleynte and cried^ ah / 

As that he stongen were unto the herte. 

What reader does not refer something of the 

8 



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES 

bitterness of that cry to the spoiling, already 
foreseen, of the fair friendship, which had made 
the prison of the two lads sweet hitherto with 
its daily offices ? 

The friendship of Amis and Amile is deepened 
by the romantic circumstance of an entire 
personal resemblance between the two heroes, 
through which they pass for each other again and 
again, and thereby into many strange adventures ; 
that curious interest of the Doppelgdnger , which 
begins among the stars with the Dioscuri, being 
entwined in and out through all the incidents of 
the story, like an outward token of the inward 
similitude of their souls. With this, again, is 
connected, like a second reflection of that inward 
similitude, the conceit of two marvellously 
beautiful cups, also exactly like each other 
children's cups, of wood, but adorned with gold 
and precious stones. These two cups, which by 
their resemblance help to bring the friends 
together at critical moments, were given to them 
by the Pope, when he baptized them at Rome, 
whither the parents had taken them for that 
purpose, in gratitude for their birth. They cross 
and recross very strangely in the narrative, serving 
the two heroes almost like living things, and with 
that well-known effect of a beautiful object, kept 
constantly before the eye in a story or poem, of 
keeping sensation well awake, and giving a 
certain air of refinement to all the scenes into 
which it enters. That sense of fate, which 

9 



THE RENAISSANCE 

hangs so much of the shaping of human life on 
trivial objects, like Othello's strawberry handker- 
chief, is thereby heightened, while witness is 
borne to the enjoyment of beautiful handiwork 
by primitive people, their simple wonder at it, 
so that they give it an oddly significant place 
among the factors of a human history. 

Amis and Amile, then, are true to their 
comradeship through all trials ; and in the end it 
comes to pass that at a moment of great need 
Amis takes the place of Amile in a tournament 
for life or death. " After this it happened that a 
leprosy fell upon Amis, so that his wife would 
not approach him, and wrought to strangle him. 
He departed therefore from his home, and at last 
prayed his servants to carry him to the house of 
Amile " ; and it is in what follows that the 
curious strength of the piece shows itself : 

" His servants, willing to do as he commanded, 
carried him to the place where Amile was j and 
they began to sound their rattles before the court 
of Amile's house, as lepers are accustomed to do. 
And when Amile heard the noise he commanded 
one of his servants to carry meat and bread to the 
sick man, and the cup which was given to him 
at Rome filled with good wine. And when the 
servant had done as he was commanded, he re- 
turned and said, Sir, if I had not thy cup in my 
hand, I should believe that the cup which the 
sicjc man has was thine, for they are alike, the 

10 



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES 

one to the other, in height and fashion. And 
Amile said, Go quickly and bring him to me. 
And when Amis stood before his comrade Amile 
demanded of him who he was, and how he had 
gotten that cup. I am of Briquain le Chastel, 
answered Amis, and the cup was given to me by 
the Bishop of Rome, who baptized me. And 
when Amile heard that, he knew that it was his 
comrade Amis, who had delivered him from 
death, and won for him the daughter of the 
King of France to be his wife. And straightway 
he fell upon him, and began weeping greatly, 
and kissed him. And when his wife heard that, 
she ran out with her hair in disarray, weeping 
and distressed exceedingly, for she remembered 
that it was he who had slain the false Ardres. 
And thereupon they placed him in a fair bed, 
and said to him, Abide with us until God's will 
be accomplished in thee, for all we have is at 
thy service. So he and the two servants abode 
with them. 

" And it came to pass one night, when Amis 
and Amile lay in one chamber without other 
companions, that God sent His angel Raphael to 
Amis, who said to him, Amis, art thou asleep ? 
And he, supposing that Amile had called him, 
answered and said, I am not asleep, fair comrade ! 
And the angel said to him, Thou hast answered 
well, for thou art the comrade of the heavenly 
citizens. I am Raphael, the angel of our Lord, 
and am come to tell thee how thou mayest be 

n 



THE RENAISSANCE 

healed ; for thy prayers are heard. Thou shalt 
bid Amile, thy comrade, that he slay his two 
children and wash thee in their blood, and so 
thy body shall be made whole. And Amis said 
to him, Let not this thing be, that my comrade 
should become a murderer for my sake. But 
the angel said, It is convenient that he do this. 
And thereupon the angel departed. 

" And Amile also, as if in sleep, heard those 
words ; and he awoke and said, Who is it, my 
comrade, that hath spoken with thee ? And 
Amis answered, No man ; only I have prayed to 
our Lord, as I am accustomed. And Amile 
said, Not so ! but some one hath spoken with 
thee. Then he arose and went to the door of 
the chamber ; and finding it shut he said, Tell 
me, my brother, who it was said those words to 
thee to-night. And Amis began to weep greatly, 
and told him that it was Raphael, the angel of 
the Lord, who had said to him, Amis, our Lord 
commands thee that thou bid Amile slay his two 
children, and wash thee in their blood, and so 
thou shalt be healed of thy leprosy. And Amile 
was greatly disturbed at those words, and said, I 
would have given to thee my man-servants and 
my maid-servants and all my goods, and thou 
feignest that an angel hath spoken to thee that I 
should slay my two children. And immediately 
Amis began to weep, and said, I know that I 
have spoken to thee a terrible thing, but con- 
strained thereto ; I pray thee cast me not away 

12 



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES 

from the shelter of thy house. And Amile 
answered that what he had covenanted with him, 
that he would perform, unto the hour of his 
death : But I conjure thee, said he, by the faith 
which there is between me and thee, and by our 
comradeship, and by the baptism we received 
together at Rome, that thou tell me whether it 
was man or angel said that to thee. And Amis 
answered again, So truly as an angel hath spoken 
to me this night, so may God deliver me from 
my infirmity ! 

" Then Amile began to weep in secret, and 
thought within himself : If this man was ready 
to die before the king for me, shall I not for 
him slay my children ? Shall I not keep faith 
with him who was faithful to me even unto 
death ? And Amile tarried no longer, but departed 
to the chamber of his wife, and bade her go hear 
the Sacred Office. And he took a sword, and 
went to the bed where the children were lying, 
and found them asleep. And he lay down over 
them and began to weep bitterly and said, Hath 
any man yet heard of a father who of his own will 
slew his children ? Alas, my children ! I am no 
longer your father, but your cruel murderer. 

" And the children awoke at the tears of their 
father, which fell upon them ; and they looked 
up into his face and began to laugh. And as 
they were of the age of about three years, he 
said, Your laughing will be turned into tears, 
for your innocent blood must now be shed, 

13 



THE RENAISSANCE 

and therewith he cut off their heads. Then he 
laid them back in the bed, and put the heads 
upon the bodies, and covered them as though 
they slept : and with the blood which he had 
taken he washed his comrade, and said, Lord 
Jesus Christ ! who hast commanded men to 
keep faith on earth, and didst heal the leper by 
Thy word ! cleanse now my comrade, for whose 
love I have shed the blood of my children. 

"Then Amis was cleansed of his leprosy. 
And Amile clothed his companion in his best 
robes ; and as they went to the church to give 
thanks, the bells, by the will of God, rang of 
their own accord. And when the people of the 
city heard that, they ran together to see the 
marvel. And the wife of Amile, when she 
saw Amis and Amile coming, asked which of 
the twain was her husband, and said, I know 
well the vesture of them both, but I know not 
which of them is Amile. And Amile said to her, 
I am Amile, and my companion is Amis, who is 
healed of his sickness. And she was full of 
wonder, and desired to know in what manner he 
was healed. Give thanks to our Lord, answered 
Amile, but trouble not thyself as to the manner 
of the healing. 

" Now neither the father nor the mother had 
yet entered where the children were ; but the 
father sighed heavily, because they were dead, 
and the mother asked for them, that they might 
rejoice together ; but Amile said, Dame ! let 

14 



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES 

the children sleep. And it was already the hour 
of Tierce. And going in alone to the children 
to weep over them, he found them at play in the 
bed ; only, in the place of the sword-cuts about 
their throats was as it were a thread of crimson. 
And he took them in his arms and carried them 
to his wife and said, Rejoice greatly, for thy 
children whom I had slain by the commandment 
of the angel are alive, and by their blood is Amis 
healed." 

There, as I said, is the strength of the old 
French story. For the Renaissance has not only 
the sweetness which it derives from the classical 
world, but also that curious strength of which 
there are great resources in the true middle age. 
And as I have illustrated the early strength of 
the Renaissance by the story of Amis and Amile, 
a story which comes from the North, in which 
a certain racy Teutonic flavour is perceptible, 
so I shall illustrate that other element, its early 
sweetness, a languid excess of sweetness even, by 
another story printed in the same volume of the 
EibliotJieque Elzevir tenne^ and of about the same 
date, a story which comes, characteristically, from 
the South, and connects itself with the literature 
of Provence. 

The central love-poetry of Provence, the 
poetry of the Tenson and the Aubade^ of Bernard 
de Ventadour and Pierre Vidal, is poetry for the 
few, for the elect and peculiar people of the 



THE RENAISSANCE 

kingdom of sentiment. But below this intenser 
poetry there was probably a wide range of litera- 
ture, less serious and elevated, reaching, by light- 
ness of form and comparative homeliness of 
interest, an audience which the concentrated 
passion of those higher lyrics left untouched. 
This literature has long since perished, or lives 
only in later French or Italian versions. One 
such version, the only representative of its species, 
M. Fauriel thought he detected in the story of 
Aucassin and Nicolette^ written in the French of 
the latter half of the thirteenth century, and 
preserved in a unique manuscript, in the national 
library of Paris ; and there were reasons which 
made him divine for it a still more ancient 
ancestry, traces in it of an Arabian origin, as in 
a leaf lost out of some early Arabian Nights. 1 
The little book loses none of its interest through 
the criticism which finds in it only a traditional 
subject, handed on by one people to another ; for 
after passing thus from hand to hand, its outline 
is still clear, its surface untarnished ; and, like 
many other stories, books, literary and artistic 
conceptions of the middle age, it has come to 

1 Recently, Aucassin and Nicolette has been edited and translated 
into English, with much graceful scholarship, by Mr. F. W. 
Bourdillon. Still more recently we have had a translation a 
poet's translation from the ingenious and versatile pen of Mr. 
Andrew Lang. The reader should consult also the chapter on 
"The Out-door Poetry," in Vernon Lee's most interesting Eupho- 
rion f being Studies of the Antique and Medi&val in the Renaissance, 
a work abounding in knowledge and insight on the subjects of 
which it treats. 

16 



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES 

have in this way a sort of personal history, 
almost as full of risk and adventure as that of its 
own heroes. The writer himself calls the piece 
a cantefable^ a tale told in prose, but with its 
incidents and sentiment helped forward by songs, 
inserted at irregular intervals. In the junctions 
of the story itself there are signs of roughness 
and want of skill, which make one suspect that 
the prose was only put together to connect a 
series of songs a series of songs so moving and 
attractive that people wished to heighten and 
dignify their effect by a regular framework or 
setting. Yet the songs themselves are of the 
simplest kind, not rhymed even, but only .im- 
perfectly assonant, stanzas of twenty or thirty 
lines apiece, all ending with a similar vowel 
sound. And here, as elsewhere in that early 
poetry, much of the interest lies in the spectacle 
of the formation of a new artistic sense. A novel 
art is arising, the music of rhymed poetry, and 
in the songs of Aucassin and Nicole tte, which 
seem always on the point of passing into true 
rhyme, but which halt somehow, and can never 
quite take flight, you see people just growing 
aware of the elements of a new music in their 
possession, and anticipating how pleasant such 
music might become. 

The piece was probably intended to be recited 
by a company of trained performers, many of 
whom, at least for the lesser parts, were probably 
children. The songs are introduced by the rubric, 

c 17 



THE RENAISSANCE 

Or se cante (id on chante) ; and each division of 
prose by the rubric, Or dient et content et fabloient 
(id on conte). The musical notes of a portion of 
the songs have been preserved ; and some of the 
details are so descriptive that they suggested to 
M. Fauriel the notion that the words had been ac- 
companied throughout by dramatic action. That 
mixture of simplicity and refinement which he was 
surprised to find in a composition of the thirteenth 
century, is shown sometimes in the turn given to 
some passing expression or remark ; thus, " the 
Count de Garins was old and frail, his time was 
over " Li quens Garins de Beaucaire estoit vix et 
frales ; si avoit son tans trespasse. And then, all 
is so realised ! One sees the ancient forest, with 
its disused roads grown deep with grass, and the 
place where seven roads meet u a forkeut set 
cemin qui s'en von t par le pdis ; we hear the light- 
hearted country people calling each other by 
their rustic names, and putting forward, as their 
spokesman, one among them who is more 
eloquent and ready than the rest // un qui plus 
fu enparles des autres ; for the little book has its 
burlesque element also, so that one hears the 
faint, far-off laughter still. Rough as it is, the 
piece certainly possesses this high quality of 
poetry, that it aims at a purely artistic effect. Its 
subject is a great sorrow, yet it claims to be a 
thing of joy and refreshment, to be entertained 
not for its matter only, but chiefly for its manner , 
it is cortois, it tells us, et bien assis. 

18 



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES 

For the student of manners, and of the old 
French language and literature, it has much 
interest of a purely antiquarian order. To say 
of an ancient literary composition that it has an 
antiquarian interest, often means that it has no 
distinct aesthetic interest for the reader of to-day. 
Antiquarianism, by a purely historical effort, by 
putting its object in perspective, and setting the 
reader in a certain point of view, from which 
what gave pleasure to the past is pleasurable for 
him also, may often add greatly to the charm we 
receive from ancient literature. But the first 
condition of such aid must be a real, direct, 
aesthetic charm in the thing itself. Unless it has 
that charm, unless some purely artistic quality 
went to its original making, no merely antiquarian 
effort can ever give it an aesthetic value, or make 
it a proper subject of aesthetic criticism. This 
quality, wherever it exists, it is always pleasant 
to define, and discriminate from the sort of 
borrowed interest which an old play, or an old 
story, may very likely acquire through a true 
antiquarianism. The story of Aucassin and 
Nicolette has something of this quality. 
Aucassin, the only son of Count Garins of 
Beaucaire, is passionately in love with Nicolette, 
a beautiful girl of unknown parentage, bought 
of the Saracens, whom his father will not permit 
him to marry. The story turns on the adven- 
tures of these two lovers, until at the end of the 
piece their mutual fidelity is rewarded. These 

19 



THE RENAISSANCE 

adventures are of the simplest sort, adventures 
which seem to be chosen for the happy occasion 
they afford of keeping the eye of the fancy, 
perhaps the outward eye, fixed on pleasant 
objects, a garden, a ruined tower, the little hut 
of flowers which Nicolette constructs in the 
forest whither she escapes from her enemies, 
as a token to Aucassin that she has passed that 
way. All the charm of the piece is in its 
details, in a turn of peculiar lightness and grace 
given to the situations and traits of sentiment, 
especially in its quaint fragments of early French 
prose. 

All through it one feels the influence of that 
faint air of overwrought delicacy, almost of 
wantonness, which was so strong a characteristic 
of the poetry of the Troubadours. The Trou- 
badours themselves were often men of great rank ; 
they wrote for an exclusive audience, people of 
much leisure and great refinement, and they 
came to value a type of personal beauty which 
has in it but little of the influence of the open 
air and sunshine. There is a languid Eastern 
deliciousness in the very scenery of the story, 
the full-blown roses, the chamber painted in some 
mysterious manner where Nicolette is imprisoned, 
the cool brown marble, the almost nameless 
colours, the odour of plucked grass and flowers. 
Nicolette herself well becomes this scenery, and 
is the best illustration of the quality I mean 
the beautiful, weird, foreign girl, whom the 

20 



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES 

shepherds take for a fay, who has the knowledge 
of simples, the healing and beautifying qualities 
of leaves and flowers, whose skilful touch heals 
Aucassin's sprained shoulder, so that he suddenly 
leaps from the ground ; the mere sight of whose 
white flesh, as she passed the place where he lay, 
healed a pilgrim stricken with sore disease, so 
that he rose up, and returned to his own country. 
With this girl Aucassin is so deeply in love that 
he forgets all knightly duties. At last Nicolette 
is shut up to get her out of his way, and 
perhaps the prettiest passage in the whole piece 
is the fragment of prose which describes her 
escape : 

"Aucassin was put in prison, as you have 
heard, and Nicolette remained shut up in her 
chamber. It was summer-time, in the month of 
May, when the days are warm and long and 
clear, and the nights coy and serene. 

" One night Nicolette, lying on her bed, saw 
the moon shine clear through the little window, 
and heard the nightingale sing in the garden, 
and then came the memory of Aucassin, whom 
she so much loved. She thought of the Count 
Garins of Beaucaire, who mortally hated her, 
and, to be rid of her, might at any moment 
cause her to be burned or drowned. She per- 
ceived that the old woman who kept her 
company was asleep ; she rose and put on the 
fairest gown she had ; she took the bed-clothes 

21 



THE RENAISSANCE 

and the towels, and knotted them together like 
a cord, as far as they would go. Then she tied 
the end to a pillar of the window, and let herself 
slip down quite softly into the garden, and passed 
straight across it, to reach the town. 

" Her hair was yellow in small curls, her 
smiling eyes blue-green, her face clear and feat, 
the little lips very red, the teeth srrfall and white ; 
and the daisies which she crushed in passing, 
holding her skirt high behind and before, looked 
dark against her feet ; the girl was so white ! 

" She came to the garden-gate and opened it, 
and walked through the streets of Beaucaire, 
keeping on the dark side of the way to be out of 
the light of the moon, which shone quietly in 
the sky. She walked as fast as she could, until 
she came to the tower where Aucassin was. The 
tower was set about with pillars, here and there. 
She pressed herself against one of the pillars, 
wrapped herself closely in her mantle, and putting 
her face to a chink of the tower, which was old 
and ruined, she heard Aucassin crying bitterly 
within, and when she had listened awhile she 
began to speak." 

But scattered up and down through this 
lighter matter, always tinged with humour and 
often passing into burlesque, which makes up 
the general substance of the piece, there are 
morsels of a different quality, touches of some 
intenser sentiment, coming it would seem from 

22 



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES 

the profound and energetic spirit of the Proven9al 
poetry itself, to which the inspiration of the book 
has been referred. Let me gather up these 
morsels of deeper colour, these expressions of the 
ideal intensity of love, the motive which really 
unites together the fragments of the little com- 
position. Dante, the perfect flower of ideal love, 
has recorded how the tyranny of that " Lord of 
terrible aspect " became actually physical, blind- 
ing his senses, and suspending his bodily forces. 
In this, Dante is but the central expression and 
type of experiences known well enough to the 
initiated, in that passionate age. Aucassin 
represents this ideal intensity of passion 



Aucassin^ II biax^ II 

Li genttx^ li amorous ; 

the slim, tall, debonair, dansellon^ as the singers 
call him, with his curled yellow hair, and eyes 
of vair, who faints with love, as Dante fainted, 
who rides all day through the forest in search 
of Nicolette, while the thorns tear his flesh, so 
that one might have traced him by the blood 
upon the grass, and who weeps at eventide 
because he has not found her, who has the 
malady of his love, and neglects all knightly 
duties. Once he is induced to put himself at the 
head of his people, that they, seeing him before 
them, might have more heart to defend them- 
selves ; then a song relates how the sweet, grave 
figure goes forth to battle, in dainty, tight-laced 

23 



THE RENAISSANCE 

armour. It is the very image of the Prover^al 
love-god, no longer a child, but grown to pensive 
youth, as Pierre Vidal met him, riding on a white 
horse, fair as the morning, his vestment em- 
broidered with flowers. He rode on through 
the gates into the open plain beyond. But as 
he went, that great malady of his love came upon 
him. The bridle fell from his hands ; and like 
one who sleeps walking, he was carried on into 
the midst of his enemies, and heard them talk- 
ing together how they might most conveniently 
kill him. 

One of the strongest characteristics of that 
outbreak of the reason and the imagination, of 
that assertion of the liberty of the heart, in the 
middle age, which I have termed a medieval 
Renaissance, was its antinomianism, its spirit of 
rebellion and revolt against the moral and religious 
ideas of the time. In their search after the 
pleasures of the senses and the imagination, in 
their care for beauty, in their worship of the 
body, people were impelled beyond the bounds 
of the Christian ideal ; and their love became 
sometimes a strange idolatry, a strange rival 
religion. It was the return of that ancient 
Venus, not dead, but only hidden for a time in 
the caves of the Venusberg, of those old pagan 
gods still going to and fro on the earth, under all 
sorts of disguises. And this element in the 
middle age, for the most part ignored by those 
writers who have treated it pre-eminently as the 

24 



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES 

" Age of Faith " this rebellious and antinomian 
element, the recognition of which has made the 
delineation of the middle age by the writers of 
the Romantic school in France, by Victor Hugo 
for instance in Notre-Dame de Paris, so suggestive 
and exciting is found alike in the history of 
Abelard and the legend of Tannhauser. More 
and more, as we come to mark changes and 
distinctions of temper in what is often in one 
all-embracing confusion called the middle age, 
that rebellion, that sinister claim for liberty of 
heart and thought, comes to the surface. The 
Albigensian movement, connected so strangely 
with the history of Provenfal poetry, is deeply 
tinged with it. A touch of it makes the Fran- 
ciscan order, with its poetry, its mysticism, its 
"illumination," from the point of view of 
religious authority, justly suspect. It influences 
the thoughts of those obscure prophetical writers, 
like Joachim of Flora, strange dreamers in a 
world of flowery rhetoric of that third and final 
dispensation of a " spirit of freedom," in which 
law shall have passed away. Of this spirit 
Aucassin and Nicolette contains perhaps the most 
famous expression : it is the answer Aucassin 
gives when he is threatened with the pains of 
hell, if he makes Nicolette his mistress. A 
creature wholly of affection and the senses, he 
sees on the way to paradise only a feeble and 
worn-out company of aged priests, "clinging 
day and night to the chapel altars," barefoot or 

25 



THE RENAISSANCE 

in patched sandals. With or even without 
Nicolette, " his sweet mistress whom he so 
much loves," he, for his part, is ready to start on 
the way to hell, along with " the good scholars," 
as he says, and the actors, and the fine horsemen 
dead in battle, and the men of fashion, 1 and 
" the fair courteous ladies who had two or three 
chevaliers apiece beside their own true lords," 
all gay with music, in their gold, and silver, and 
beautiful furs " the vair and the grey." 

But in the House Beautiful the saints too have 
their place ; and the student of the Renaissance 
has this advantage over the student of the eman- 
cipation of the human mind in the Reformation, 
or the French Revolution, that in tracing the 
footsteps of humanity to higher levels, he is 
not beset at every turn by the inflexibilities and 
antagonisms of some well-recognised controversy, 
with rigidly defined opposites, exhausting the 
intelligence and limiting one's sympathies. The 
opposition of the professional defenders of a mere 
system to that more sincere and generous play of 
the forces of human mind and character, which 
I have noted as the secret of Abelard's struggle, 
is indeed always powerful. But the incompati- 
bility with one another of souls really " fair " is 
not essential ; and within the enchanted region 
of the Renaissance, one needs not be for ever on 

1 Parage, peerage : which came to signify all that ambitious 
youth affected most on the outside of life, in that old world of the 
Troubadours, with whom this term is of frequent recurrence. 

26 



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES 

one's guard. Here there are no fixed parties, no 
exclusions : all breathes of that unity of culture 
in which " whatsoever things are comely " are 
reconciled, for the elevation and adorning of our 
spirits. And just in proportion as those who 
took part in the Renaissance become centrally 
representative of it, just so much the more is this 
condition realised in them. The wicked popes, 
and the loveless tyrants, who from time to time 
became its patrons, or mere speculators in its 
fortunes, lend themselves easily to disputations, 
and, from this side or that, the spirit of controversy 
lays just hold upon them. But the painter of the 
Last Supper, with his kindred, lives in a land 
where controversy has no breathing-place. They 
refuse to be classified. In the story of Aucassin 
and Nicolette^ in the literature which it represents, 
the note of defiance, of the opposition of one 
system to another, is sometimes harsh. Let me 
conclude then with a morsel from Amis and Amile, 
in which the harmony of human interests is still 
entire. For the story of the great traditional 
friendship, in which, as I said, the liberty of the 
heart makes itself felt, seems, as we have it, to 
have been written by a monk La vie des saints 
martyrs Amis et Amile. It was not till the end 
of the seventeenth century that their names 
were finally excluded from the martyrology ; 
and their story ends with this monkish miracle 
of earthly comradeship, more than faithful unto 
death : 

27 



THE RENAISSANCE 

" For, as God had united them in their lives 
in one accord, so they were not divided in their 
death, falling together side by side, with a host 
of other brave men, in battle for King Charles 
at Mortara, so called from that great slaughter. 
And the bishops gave counsel to the king and 
queen that they should bury the dead, and build 
a church in that place ; and their counsel pleased 
the king greatly. And there were built two 
churches, the one by commandment of the king 
in honour of Saint Oseige, and the other by 
commandment of the queen in honour of Saint 
Peter. 

"And the king caused the two chests of 
stone to be brought in the which the bodies of 
Amis and Amile lay ; and Amile was carried 
to the church of Saint Peter, and Amis to the 
church of Saint Oseige ; and the other corpses 
were buried, some in one place and some in 
the other. But lo ! next morning, the body 
of Amile in his coffin was found lying in the 
church of Saint Oseige, beside the coffin of 
Amis his comrade. Behold then this won- 
drous amity, which by death could not be 
dissevered ! 

"This miracle God did, who gave to His 
disciples power to remove mountains. And by 
reason of this miracle the king and queen re- 
mained in that place for a space of thirty days, 
and performed the offices of the dead who were 
slain, and honoured the said churches with great 

28 



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES 

gifts. And the bishop ordained many clerks to 
serve in the church of Saint Oseige, and com- 
manded them that they should guard duly, with 
great devotion, the bodies of the two companions^ 
Amis and Amile." 

1872. 



29 



PICO BELLA MIRANDOLA 

No account of the Renaissance can be complete 
without some notice of the attempt made by 
certain Italian scholars of the fifteenth century 
to reconcile Christianity with the religion of 
ancient Greece. To reconcile forms of sentiment 
which at first sight seem incompatible, to adjust 
the various products of the human mind to one 
another in one many-sided type of intellectual 
culture, to give humanity, for heart and imagina- 
tion to feed upon, as much as it could possibly 
receive, belonged to the generous instincts of 
that age. An earlier and simpler generation 
had seen in the gods of Greece so many malig- 
nant spirits, the defeated but still living centres 
of the religion of darkness, struggling, not always 
in vain, against the kingdom of light. Little by 
little, as the natural charm of pagan story re- 
asserted itself over minds emerging out of 
barbarism, the religious significance which had 
once belonged to it was lost sight of, and it 
came to be regarded as the subject of a purely 
artistic or poetical treatment. But it was in- 
evitable that from time to time minds should 

30 



PICO BELLA MIRANDOLA 

arise, deeply enough impressed by its beauty and 
power to ask themselves whether the religion of 
Greece was indeed a rival of the religion of 
Christ ; for the older gods had rehabilitated 
themselves, and men's allegiance was divided. 
And the fifteenth century was an impassioned 
age, so ardent and serious in its pursuit of art 
that it consecrated everything with which art 
had to do as a religious object. The restored 
Greek literature had made it familiar, at least 
in Plato, with a style of expression concerning 
the earlier gods, which had about it something 
of the warmth and unction of a Christian hymn. 
It was too familiar with such language to regard 
mythology as a mere story ; and it was too 
serious to play with a religion. 

" Let me briefly remind the reader " says 
Heine, in the Gods in Exile ', an essay full of that 
strange blending of sentiment which is charac- 
teristic of the traditions of the middle age con- 
cerning the pagan religions " how the gods of 
the older world, at the time of the definite 
triumph of Christianity, that is, in the third 
century, fell into painful embarrassments, which 
greatly resembled certain tragical situations of 
their earlier life. They now found themselves 
beset by the same troublesome necessities to 
which they had once before been exposed during 
the primitive ages, in that revolutionary epoch 
when the Titans broke out of the custody 
of Orcus, and, piling Pelion on Ossa, scaled 



THE RENAISSANCE 

Olympus. Unfortunate gods ! They had then 
to take flight ignominiously, and hide themselves 
among us here on earth, under all sorts of dis- 
guises. The larger number betook themselves 
to Egypt, where for greater security they assumed 
the forms of animals, as is generally known. 
Just in the same way, they had to take flight 
again, and seek entertainment in remote hiding- 
places, when those iconoclastic zealots, the black 
brood of monks, broke down all the temples, 
and pursued the gods with fire and curses. 
Many of these unfortunate emigrants, now 
entirely deprived of shelter and ambrosia, must 
needs take to vulgar handicrafts, as a means of 
earning their bread. Under these circumstances, 
many whose sacred groves had been confiscated, 
let themselves out for hire as wood-cutters in 
Germany, and were forced to drink beer instead 
of nectar. Apollo seems to have been content 
to take service under graziers, and as he had 
once kept the cows of Admetus, so he lived now 
as a shepherd in Lower Austria. Here, how- 
ever, having become suspected on account of his 
beautiful singing, he was recognised by a learned 
monk as one of the old pagan gods, and handed 
over to the spiritual tribunal. On the rack he 
confessed that he was the god Apollo ; and 
before his execution he begged that he might 
be suffered to play once more upon the lyre, and 
to sing a song. And he played so touchingly, 
and sang with such magic, and was withal so 

32 






PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA 

beautiful in form and feature, that all the women 
wept, and many of them were so deeply im- 
pressed that they shortly afterwards fell sick. 
Some time afterwards the people wished to 
drag him from the grave again, that a stake 
might be driven through his body, in the belief 
that he had been a vampire, and that the sick 
women would by this means recover. But they 
found the grave empty." 

The Renaissance of the fifteenth century was, 
in many things, great rather by what it designed 
than by what it achieved. Much which it 
aspired to do, and did but imperfectly or mis- 
takenly, was accomplished in what is called- the 
eclaircissement of the eighteenth century, or in our 
own generation ; and what really belongs to the 
revival of the fifteenth century is but the leading 
instinct, the curiosity, the initiatory idea. It is 
so with this very question of the reconciliation 
of the religion of antiquity with the religion of 
Christ. A modern scholar occupied by this 
problem might observe that all religions may be 
regarded as natural products, that, at least in 
their origin, their growth, and decay, they have 
common laws, and are not to be isolated from the 
other movements of the human mind in the 
periods in which they respectively prevailed ; that 
they arise spontaneously out of the human mind, 
as expressions of the varying phases of its sentiment 
concerning the unseen world ; that every intel- 
lectual product must be judged from the point of 

D 33 



THE RENAISSANCE 

view of the age and the people in which it was 
produced. He might go on to observe that each 
has contributed something to the development 
of the religious sense, and ranging them as so 
many stages in the gradual education of the 
human mind, justify the existence of each. The 
basis of the reconciliation of the religions of the 
world would thus be the inexhaustible activity 
and creativeness of the human mind itself, in 
which all religions alike have their root, and in 
which all alike are reconciled ; just as the fancies 
of childhood and the thoughts of old age meet and 
are laid to rest, in the experience of the individual. 
Far different was the method followed by the 
scholars of the fifteenth century. They lacked 
the very rudiments of the historic sense, which, 
by an imaginative act, throws itself back into 
a world unlike one's own, and estimates every 
intellectual creation in its connexion with the 
age from which it proceeded. They had no idea 
of development, of the differences of ages, of the 
process by which our race has been " educated." 
In their attempts to reconcile the religions of the 
world, they were thus thrown back upon the 
quicksand of allegorical interpretation. The 
religions of the world were to be reconciled, not 
as successive stages in a regular development of the 
religious sense, but as subsisting side by side, and 
substantially in agreement with one another. And 
here the first necessity was to misrepresent the 
language, the conceptions, the sentiments, it was 

34 



PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA 

proposed to compare and reconcile. Plato and 
Homer must be made to speak agreeably to 
Moses. Set side by side, the mere surfaces 
could never unite in any harmony of design. 
Therefore one must go below the surface, and 
bring up the supposed secondary, or still more 
remote meaning, that diviner signification held 
in reserve, in recessu dvuinius aliquid^ latent in some 
stray touch of Homer, or figure of speech in the 
books of Moses. 

And yet as a curiosity of the human mind, a 
" madhouse-cell," if you will, into which we may 
peep for a moment, and see it at work weaving 
strange fancies, the allegorical interpretation of 
the fifteenth century has its interest. With its 
strange web of imagery, its quaint conceits, its 
unexpected combinations and subtle moralising, 
it is an element in the local colour of a great age. 
It illustrates also the faith of that age in all 
oracles, its desire to hear all voices, its generous 
belief that nothing which had ever interested the 
human mind could wholly lose its vitality. It 
is the counterpart, though certainly the feebler 
counterpart, of that practical truce and recon- 
ciliation of the gods of Greece with the Christian 
religion, which is seen in the art of the time. 
And it is for his share in this work, and because 
his own story is a sort of analogue or visible 
equivalent to the expression of this purpose in 
his writings, that something of a general interest 
still belongs to the name of Pico della Mirandola, 

35 



THE RENAISSANCE 

whose life, written by his nephew Francis, seemed 
worthy, for some touch of sweetness in it, to be 
translated out of the original Latin by Sir Thomas 
More, that great lover of Italian culture, among 
whose works the life of Pico, Earl of Mirandola\ 
and a great lord of Italy ^ as he calls him, may still 
be read, in its quaint, antiquated English. 

Marsilio Ficino has told us how Pico came 
to Florence. It* was the very day some day 
probably in the year 1482 on which Ficino had 
finished his famous translation of Plato into Latin, 
the work to which he had been dedicated from 
childhood by Cosmo de' Medici, in furtherance 
of his desire to resuscitate the knowledge of Plato 
among his fellow-citizens. Florence indeed, as 
M. Renan has pointed out, had always had an 
affinity for the mystic and dreamy philosophy of 
Plato, while the colder and more practical philo- 
sophy of Aristotle had flourished in Padua, and 
other cities of the north ; and the Florentines, 
though they knew perhaps very little about him, 
had had the name of the great idealist often on 
their lips. To increase this knowledge, Cosmo 
had founded the Platonic academy, with periodi- 
cal discussions at the Villa Careggi. The fall 
of Constantinople in 1453, and the council in 
1438 for the reconciliation of the Greek and 
Latin Churches, had brought to Florence many 
a needy Greek scholar. And now the work was 
completed, the door of the mystical temple lay 
open to all who could construe Latin, and the 

36 



PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA 

scholar rested from his labour ; when there was 
introduced into his study, where a lamp burned 
continually before the bust of Plato, as other 
men burned lamps before their favourite saints, a 
young man fresh from a journey, " of feature and 
shape seemly and beauteous, of stature goodly 
and high, of flesh tender and soft, his visage 
lovely and fair, his colour white, intermingled 
with comely reds, his eyes grey, and quick of look, 
his teeth white and even, his hair yellow and 
abundant," and trimmed with more than the 
usual artifice of the time. 

It is thus that Sir Thomas More translates the 
words of the biographer of Pico, who, even in out- 
ward form and appearance, seems an image of that 
inward harmony and completeness, of which he 
is so perfect an example. The word mystic has 
been usually derived from a Greek word which 
signifies to shut^ as if one shut one's lips brooding 
on what cannot be uttered ; but the Platonists 
themselves derive it rather from the act of shutting 
the eyes, that one may see the more, inwardly. 
Perhaps the eyes of the mystic Ficino, now long 
past the midway of life, had come to be thus half- 
closed ; but when a young man, not unlike the 
archangel Raphael, as the Florentines of that age 
depicted him in his wonderful walk with Tobit, 
or Mercury, as he might have appeared in a paint- 
ing by Sandro Botticelli or Piero di Cosimo, 
entered his chamber, he seems to have thought 
there was something not wholly earthly about 

37 



THE RENAISSANCE 

him ; at least, he ever afterwards believed that 
it was not without the co-operation of the stars 
that the stranger had arrived on that day. For 
it happened that they fell into a conversation, 
deeper and more intimate than men usually fall 
into at first sight. During this conversation 
Ficino formed the design of devoting his remain- 
ing years to the translation of Plotinus, that new 
Plato, in whom the mystical element in the 
Platonic philosophy had been worked out to the 
utmost limit of vision and ecstasy ; and it is in 
dedicating this translation to Lorenzo de* Medici 
that Ficino has recorded these incidents. 

It was after many wanderings, wanderings of 
the intellect as well as physical journeys, that 
Pico came to rest at Florence. Born in 1463, 
he was then about twenty years old. He was 
called Giovanni at baptism, Pico, like all his 
ancestors, from Picus, nephew of the Emperor 
Constantine, from whom they claimed to be 
descended, and Mirandola from the place of 
his birth, a little town afterwards part of the 
duchy of Modena, of which small territory 
his family had long been the feudal lords. 
Pico was the youngest of the family, and his 
mother, delighting in his wonderful memory, 
sent him at the age of fourteen to the famous 
school of law at Bologna. From the first, 
indeed, she seems to have had some presenti- 
ment of his future fame, for, with a faith in 
omens characteristic of her time, she believed 

38 



PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA 

that a strange circumstance had happened at 
the time of Pico's birth the appearance of a 
circular flame which suddenly vanished away, 
on the wall of the chamber where she lay, 
He remained two years at Bologna ; and then, 
with an inexhaustible, unrivalled thirst for 
knowledge, the strange, confused, uncritical learn- 
ing of that age, passed through the principal 
schools of Italy and France, penetrating, as he 
thought, into the secrets of all ancient philoso- 
phies, and many Eastern languages. And with 
this flood of erudition came the generous hope, so 
often disabused, of reconciling the philosophers 
with one another, and all alike with the Church. 
At last he came to Rome. There, like some 
knight-errant of philosophy, he offered to defend 
nine hundred bold paradoxes, drawn from the 
most opposite sources, against all comers. But 
the pontifical court was led to suspect the 
orthodoxy of some of these propositions, and 
even the reading of the book which contained 
them was forbidden by the Pope. It was not 
until 1493 ^at Pi co was finally absolved, by a 
brief of Alexander the Sixth. Ten years before 
that date he had arrived at Florence ; an early 
instance of those who, after following the vain 
hope of an impossible reconciliation from system 
to system, have at last fallen back unsatisfied on 
the simplicities of their childhood's belief. 

The oration which Pico composed for the 
opening of this philosophical tournament still 

39 



THE RENAISSANCE 

remains ; its subject is the dignity of human 
nature, the greatness of man. In common with 
nearly all medieval speculation, much of Pico's 
writing has this for its drift ; and in common 
also with it, Pico's theory of that dignity is 
founded on a misconception of the place in nature 
both of the earth and of man. For Pico the 
earth is the centre of the universe : and around 
it, as a fixed and motionless point, the sun and 
moon and stars revolve, like diligent servants or 
ministers. And in the midst of all is placed 
man, nodus et vinculum mundi^ the bond or copula 
of the world, and the <c interpreter of nature": 
that famous expression of Bacon's really belongs 
to Pico. Tritum est in scholis^ he says, e sse hominem 
minorem mundum^ in quo mixtum ex dementis corpus 
et spiritus coelestis et plantarum anima vegeta/is et 
brutorum sensus et ratio et angelica mens et Dei 
similitudo conspicitur : " It is a commonplace of 
the schools that man is a little world, in which 
we may discern a body mingled of earthy 
elements, and ethereal breath, and the vegetable 
life of plants, and the senses of the lower animals, 
and reason, and the intelligence of angels, and 
a likeness to God." 

A commonplace of the schools ! But perhaps 
it had some new significance and authority, when 
men heard one like Pico reiterate it ; and, false 
as its basis was, the theory had its use. For this 
high dignity of man, thus bringing the dust under 
his feet into sensible communion with the 

40 



PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA 

thoughts and affections of the angels, was supposed 
to belong to him, not as renewed by a religious 
system, but by his own natural right. The pro- 
clamation of it was a counterpoise to the increas- 
ing tendency of medieval religion to depreciate 
man's nature, to sacrifice this or that element in 
it, to make it ashamed of itself, to keep the degrad- 
ing or painful accidents of it always in view. It 
helped man onward to that reassertion of himself, 
that rehabilitation of human nature, the body, 
the senses, the heart, the intelligence, which the 
Renaissance fulfils. And yet to read a page of one 
of Pico's forgotten books is like a glance into one 
of those ancient sepulchres, upon which the wan- 
derer in classical lands has sometimes stumbled, 
with the old disused ornaments and furniture of 
a world wholly unlike ours still fresh in them. 
That whole conception of nature is so different 
from our own. For Pico the world is a limited 
place, bounded by actual crystal walls, and a 
material firmament ; it is like a painted toy, like 
that map or system of the world, held, as a great 
target or shield, in the hands of the creative Logos, 
by whom the Father made all things, in one of 
the earlier frescoes of the Campo Santo at Pisa. 
How different from this childish dream is our 
own conception of nature, with its unlimited 
space, its innumerable suns, and the earth but a 
mote in the beam ; how different the strange 
new awe, or superstition, with which it fills our 
minds * " The silence of those infinite spaces," 



THE RENAISSANCE 

says Pascal, contemplating a starlight night, "the 
silence of those infinite spaces terrifies me " : 
Le silence eternel de ces espaces infinis m'ejfraie. 

He was already almost wearied out when he 
came to Florence. He had loved much and 
been beloved by women, " wandering over the 
crooked hills of delicious pleasure " ; but their 
reign over him was over, and long before 
Savonarola's famous "bonfire of vanities," he 
had destroyed those love-songs in the vulgar 
tongue, which would have been so great a relief 
to us, after the scholastic prolixity of his Latin 
writings. It was in another spirit that he com- 
posed a Platonic commentary, the only work of 
his in Italian which has come down to us, on 
the " Song of Divine Love " secondo la mente ed 
opinione del Platonici "according to the mind 
and opinion of the Platonists," by his friend 
Hieronymo Beniveni, in which, with an am- 
bitious array of every sort of learning, and a 
profusion of imagery borrowed indifferently 
from the astrologers, the Cabala, and Homer, 
and Scripture, and Dionysius the Areopagite, he 
attempts to define the stages by which the soul 
passes from the earthly to the unseen beauty. 
A change indeed had passed over him, as if the 
chilling touch of the abstract and disembodied 
beauty Platonists profess to long for were 
already upon him. Some sense of this, perhaps, 
coupled with that over-brightness which in the 
popular imagination always betokens an early 

42 



PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA 

death, made Camilla Rucellai, one of those 
prophetic women whom the preaching of 
Savonarola had raised up in Florence, declare, 
seeing him for the first time, that he would 
depart in the time of lilies prematurely, that 
is, like the field -flowers which are withered 
by the scorching sun almost as soon as 
they are sprung up. He now wrote down 
those thoughts on the religious life which Sir 
Thomas More turned into English, and which 
another English translator thought worthy to 
be added to the books of the Imitation. " It is 
not hard to know God, provided one will not 
force oneself to define Him " : has been thought 
a great saying of Joubert's. " Love God," Pico 
writes to Angelo Politian, "we rather may, 
than either know Him, or by speech utter Him. 
And yet had men liefer by knowledge never find 
that which they seek, than by love possess that 
thing, which also without love were in vain 
found." 

Yet he who had this fine touch for spiritual 
things did not and in this is the enduring 
interest of his story even after his conversion, 
forget the old gods. He is one of the last 
who seriously and sincerely entertained the 
claim on men's faith of the pagan religions ; 
he is anxious to ascertain the true significance 
of the obscurest legend, the lightest tradition 
concerning them. With many thoughts and 
many influences which led him in that direc- 

43 



THE RENAISSANCE 

tion, he did not become a monk ; only he 
became gentle and patient in disputation ; re- 
taining " somewhat of the old plenty, in dainty 
viand and silver vessel," he gave over the greater 
part of his property to his friend, the mystical 
poet Beniveni, to be spent by him in works of 
charity, chiefly in the sweet charity of pro- 
viding marriage-dowries for the peasant girls of 
Florence. His end came in 1494, when, amid 
the prayers and sacraments of Savonarola, he 
died of fever, on the very day on which Charles 
the Eighth entered Florence, the seventeenth of 
November, yet in the time of lilies the lilies of 
the shield of France, as the people now said, re- 
membering Camilla's prophecy. He was buried 
in the conventual church of Saint Mark, in the 
hood and white frock of the Dominican order. 

It is because the life of Pico, thus lying 
down to rest in the Dominican habit, yet amid 
thoughts of the older gods, himself like one of 
those comely divinities, reconciled indeed to the 
new religion, but still with a tenderness for the 
earlier life, and desirous literally to "bind the 
ages each to each by natural piety" it is 
because this life is so perfect a parallel to the 
attempt made in his writings to reconcile 
Christianity with the ideas of paganism, that 
Pico, in spite of the scholastic character of 
those writings, is really interesting. Thus, in 
the Heptaplus, or Discourse on the Seven Days of 
the Creation, he endeavours to reconcile the 

44 



PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA 

accounts which pagan philosophy had given 
of the origin of the world with the account 
given in the books of Moses the Timczus of 
Plato with the book of Genesis. The Heptaplus 
is dedicated to Lorenzo the Magnificent, whose 
interest, the preface tells us, in the secret 
wisdom of Moses is well known. If Moses 
seems in his writings simple and even popular, 
rather than either a philosopher or a theologian, 
that is because it was an institution with the 
ancient philosophers, either not to speak of 
divine things at all, or to speak of them dis- 
semblingly : hence their doctrines were called 
mysteries. Taught by them, Pythagoras' be- 
came so great a " master of silence," and wrote 
almost nothing, thus hiding the words of God 
in his heart, and speaking wisdom only among 
the perfect. In explaining the harmony be- 
tween Plato and Moses, Pico lays hold on every 
sort of figure and analogy, on the double mean- 
ings of words, the symbols of the Jewish ritual, 
the secondary meanings of obscure stories in the 
later Greek mythologists. Everywhere there is 
an unbroken system of correspondences. Every 
object in the terrestrial world is an analogue, a 
symbol or counterpart, of some higher reality in 
the starry heavens, and this again of some law of 
the angelic life in the world beyond the stars. 
There is the element of fire in the material 
world ; the sun is the fire of heaven ; and in 
the super -celestial world there is the fire of 

45 



THE RENAISSANCE 

the seraphic intelligence. " But behold how 
they differ ! The elementary fire burns, the 
heavenly fire vivifies, the super -celestial fire 
loves." In this way, every natural object, 
every combination of natural forces, every acci- 
dent in the lives of men, is filled with higher 
meanings. Omens, prophecies, supernatural co- 
incidences, accompany Pico himself all through 
life. There are oracles in every tree and moun- 
tain-top, and a significance in every accidental 
combination of the events of life. 

This constant tendency to symbolism and 
imagery gives Pico's work a figured style, by 
which it has some real resemblance to Plato's, 
and he differs from other mystical writers of his 
time by a genuine desire to know his authorities 
at first hand. He reads Plato in Greek, Moses in 
Hebrew, and by this his work really belongs to 
the higher culture. Above all, we have a con- 
stant sense in reading him, that his thoughts, 
however little their positive value may be, are 
connected with springs beneath them of deep and 
passionate emotion ; and when he explains the 
grades or steps by which the soul passes from the 
love of a physical object to the love of unseen 
beauty, and unfolds the analogies, between this 
process and other movements upward of human 
thought, there is a glow and vehemence in his 
words which remind one of the manner in which 
his own brief existence flamed itself away. 

I said that the Renaissance of the fifteenth 



PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA 

century was, in many things, great rather by 
what it designed or aspired to do, than by what 
it actually achieved. It remained for a later age 
to conceive the true method of effecting a 
scientific reconciliation of Christian sentiment 
with the imagery, the legends, the theories about 
the world, of pagan poetry and philosophy. For 
that age the only possible reconciliation was an 
imaginative one, and resulted from the efforts of 
artists, trained in Christian schools, to handle 
pagan subjects ; and of this artistic reconciliation 
work like Pico's was but the feebler counterpart. 
Whatever philosophers had to say on one side or 
the other, whether they were successful or' not 
in their attempts to reconcile the old to the new, 
and to justify the expenditure of so much care 
and thought on the dreams of a dead faith, the 
imagery of the Greek religion, the direct charm 
of its story, were by artists valued and cultivated 
for their own sake. Hence a new sort of 
mythology, with a tone and qualities of its own. 
When the ship-load of sacred earth from the soil 
of Jerusalem was mingled with the common clay 
in the Campo Santo at Pisa, a new flower grew up 
from it, unlike any flower men had seen before, 
the anemone with its concentric rings of strangely 
blended colour, still to be found by those who 
search long enough for it, in the long grass of 
the Maremma. Just such a strange flower was 
that mythology of the Italian Renaissance, which 
grew up from the mixture of two traditions, two 

47 



THE RENAISSANCE 



sentiments, the sacred and the profane. Classical 
story was regarded as so much imaginative 
material to be received and assimilated. It did 
not come into men's minds to ask curiously of 
science, concerning the origin of such story, 
its primary form and import, its meaning for 
those who projected it. The thing sank into 
their minds, to issue forth again with all the 
tangle about it of medieval sentiment and 
ideas. In the Doni Madonna in the Tribune of 
the Uffizii, Michelangelo actually brings the pagan 
religion, and with it the unveiled human form, 
the sleepy-looking fauns of a Dionysiac revel, into 
the presence of the Madonna, as simpler painters 
had introduced there other products of the 
earth, birds or flowers, while he has given to that 
Madonna herself much of the uncouth energy of 
the older and more primitive " Mighty Mother." 
This picturesque union of contrasts, belonging 
properly to the art of the close of the fifteenth 
century, pervades, in Pico della Mirandola, an 
actual person, and that is why the figure of 
Pico is so attractive. He will not let one 
go ; he wins one on, in spite of one's self, to 
turn again to the pages of his forgotten books, 
although we know already that the actual solution 
proposed in them will satisfy us as little as 
perhaps it satisfied him. It is said that in his 
eagerness for mysterious learning he once paid 
a great sum for a collection of cabalistic manu- 
scripts, which turned out to be forgeries ; and 

48 



PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA 

the story might well stand as a parable of all he 
ever seemed to gain in the way of actual know- 
ledge. He had sought knowledge, and passed 
from system to system, and hazarded much ; but 
less for the sake of positive knowledge than 
because he believed there was a spirit of order 
and beauty in knowledge, which would come 
down and unite what men's ignorance had 
divided, and renew what time had made dim. 
And so, while his actual work has passed away, 
yet his own qualities are still active, and him- 
self remains, as one alive in the grave, caesiis 
et vigilibus oculis, as his biographer describes him, 
and with that sanguine, clear skin, decenti rubore 
inter 'spersa, as with the light of morning upon it; 
and he has a true place in that group of great 
Italians who fill the end of the fifteenth century 
with their names, he is a true humanist. For 
the essence of humanism is that belief of which 
he seems never to have doubted, that nothing 
which has ever interested living men and women 
can wholly lose its vitality no language they 
have spoken, nor oracle beside which they have 
hushed their voices, no dream which has once 
been entertained by actual human minds, nothing 
about which they have ever been passionate, or 
expended time and zeal. 

1871. 



49 



SANDRO BOTTICELLI 

IN Leonardo's treatise on painting only one con- 
temporary is mentioned by name Sandro 
Botticelli. This pre-eminence may be due to 
chance only, but to some will rather appear a 
result of deliberate judgment ; for people have 
begun to find out the charm of Botticelli's work, 
and his name, little known in the last century, is 
quietly becoming important. In the middle of 
the fifteenth century he had already anticipated 
much of that meditative subtlety, which is some- 
times supposed peculiar to the great imaginative 
workmen of its close. Leaving the simple 
religion which had occupied the followers of 
Giotto for a century, and the simple naturalism 
which had grown out of it, a thing of birds and 
flowers only, he sought inspiration in what to 
him were works of the modern world, the 
writings of Dante and Boccaccio, and in new 
readings of his own of classical stories : or, if he 
painted religious incidents, painted them with an 
under- current of original sentiment, which 
touches you as the real matter of the picture 
through the veil of its ostensible subject. What 

50 



SANDRO BOTTICELLI 

is the peculiar sensation, what is the peculiar 
quality of pleasure, which his work has the pro- 
perty of exciting in us, and which we cannot get 
elsewhere f For this, especially when he has to 
speak of a comparatively unknown artist, is always 
the chief question which a critic has to answer. 

In an age when the lives of artists were 
full of adventure, his life is almost colourless. 
Criticism indeed has cleared away much of the 
gossip which Vasari accumulated, has touched 
the legend of Lippo and Lucrezia, and rehabili- 
tated the character of Andrea del Castagno. But 
in Botticelli's case there is no legend to dissipate. 
He did not even go by his true name ; Sandro 
is a nickname, and his true name is Filipepi, 
Botticelli being only the name of the goldsmith 
who first taught him art. Only two things 
happened to him, two things which he shared 
with other artists : he was invited to Rome to 
paint in the Sistine Chapel, and he fell in later 
life under the influence of Savonarola, passing 
apparently almost out of men's sight in a sort of 
religious melancholy, which lasted till his death 
in 1515, according to the received date. Vasari 
says that he plunged into the study of Dante, 
and even wrote a comment on the Divine Comedy. 
But it seems strange that he should have lived on 
inactive so long ; and one almost wishes that 
some document might come to light, which, 
fixing the date of his death earlier, might relieve 
one, in thinking of him, of his dejected old age. 



THE RENAISSANCE 

He is before all things a poetical painter, 
blending the charm of story and sentiment, the 
medium of the art of poetry, with the charm of 
line and colour, the medium of abstract painting. 
So he becomes the illustrator of Dante. In a 
few rare examples of the edition of 1481, the 
blank spaces, left at the beginning of every canto 
for the hand of the illuminator, have been filled, 
as far as the nineteenth canto of the Inferno^ 
with impressions of engraved plates, seemingly 
by way of experiment, for in the copy in the 
Bodleian Library, one of the three impressions it 
contains has been printed upside down, and much 
awry, in the midst of the luxurious printed page. 
Giotto, and the followers of Giotto, with their 
almost childish religious aim, had not learned to 
put that weight of meaning into outward things, 
light, colour, everyday gesture, which the poetry 
of the Divine Comedy involves, and before the 
fifteenth century Dante could hardly have found 
an illustrator. Botticelli's illustrations are 
crowded with incident, blending, with a naive 
carelessness of pictorial propriety, three phases 
of the same scene into one plate. The 
grotesques, so often a stumbling-block to 
painters, who forget that the words of a poet, 
which only feebly present an image to the 
mind, must be lowered in key when translated 
into visible form, make one regret that he has 
not rather chosen for illustration the more 
subdued imagery of the Purgatorio. Yet in the 

52 



SANDRO BOTTICELLI 

scene of those who " go down quick into hell," 
there is an inventive force about the fire taking 
hold on the upturned soles of the feet, which 
proves that the design is no mere translation of 
Dante's words, but a true painter's vision ; while 
the scene of the Centaurs wins one at once, for, 
forgetful of the actual circumstances of their 
appearance, Botticelli has gone off with delight 
on the thought of the Centaurs themselves, 
bright, small creatures of the woodland, with 
arch baby faces and mignon forms, drawing tiny 
bows. 

Botticelli lived in a generation of naturalists, 
and he might have been a mere naturalist among 
them. There are traces enough in his work of 
that alert sense of outward things, which, in the 
pictures of that period, fills the lawns with 
delicate living creatures, and the hillsides with 
pools of water, and the pools of water with 
flowering reeds. But this was not enough for 
him ; he is a visionary painter, and in his vision- 
ariness he resembles Dante. Giotto, the tried 
companion of Dante, Masaccio, Ghirlandajo 
even, do but transcribe, with more or less 
refining, the outward image ; they are dramatic, 
not visionary painters ; they are almost impassive 
spectators of the action before them. But the 
genius of which Botticelli is the type usurps the 
data before it as the exponent of ideas, moods, 
visions of its own ; in this interest it plays fast 
and loose with those data, rejecting some and 

53 



THE RENAISSANCE 

isolating others, and always combining them 
anew. To him, as to Dante, the scene, the 
colour, the outward image or gesture, comes 
with all its incisive and importunate reality ; but 
awakes in him, moreover, by some subtle law 
of his own structure, a mood which it awakes in 
no one else, of which it is the double or repeti- 
tion, and which it clothes, that all may share it, 
with visible circumstance. 

But he is far enough from accepting the 
conventional orthodoxy of Dante which, refer- 
ring all human action to the simple formula of 
purgatory, heaven and hell, leaves an insoluble 
element of prose in the depths of Dante's poetry. 
One picture of his, with the portrait of the 
donor, Matteo Palmieri, below, had the credit 
or discredit of attracting some shadow of ecclesi- 
astical censure. This Matteo Palmieri, (two 
dim figures move under that name in contem- 
porary history,) was the reputed author of a 
poem, still unedited, La Citta Divina, which 
represented the human race as an incarnation 
of those angels who, in the revolt of Lucifer, 
were neither for Jehovah nor for His enemies, 
a fantasy of that earlier Alexandrian philosophy 
about which the Florentine intellect in that 
century was so curious. Botticelli's picture may 
have been only one of those familiar composi- 
tions in which religious reverie has recorded its 
impressions of the various forms of beatified 
existence Glorias, as they were called, like that 

54 



SANDRO BOTTICELLI 

in which Giotto painted the portrait of Dante ; 
but somehow it was suspected of embodying in 
a picture the wayward dream of Palmieri,- and 
the chapel where it hung was closed. Artists so 
entire as Botticelli are usually careless about 
philosophical theories, even when the philo- 
sopher is a Florentine of the fifteenth century, 
and his work a poem in terza rima. But Botti- 
celli, who wrote a commentary on Dante, and 
became the disciple of Savonarola, may well have 
let such theories come and go across him. True 
or false, the story interprets much of the peculiar 
sentiment with which he infuses his profane and 
sacred persons, comely, and in a certain sense like 
angels, but with a sense of displacement or loss 
about them the wistfulness of exiles, conscious 
of a passion and energy greater than any known 
issue of them explains, which runs through all 
his varied work with a sentiment of ineffable 
melancholy. 

So just what Dante scorns as unworthy alike 
of heaven and hell, Botticelli accepts, that middle 
world in which men take no side in great con- 
flicts, and decide no great causes, and make great 
refusals. He thus sets for himself the limits 
within which art, undisturbed by any moral 
ambition, does its most sincere and surest work. 
His interest is neither in the untempered good- 
ness of Angelico's saints, nor the untempered evil 
of Orcagna's Inferno ; but with men and women, 
in their mixed and uncertain condition, always 

55 



THE RENAISSANCE 

attractive, clothed sometimes by passion with a 
character of loveliness and energy, but saddened 
perpetually by the shadow upon them of the 
great things from which they shrink. His 
morality is all sympathy ; and it is this 
sympathy, conveying into his work somewhat 
more than is usual of the true complexion 
of humanity, which makes him, visionary as 
he is, so forcible a realist. 

It is this which gives to his Madonnas their 
unique expression and charm. He has worked 
out in them a distinct and peculiar type, definite 
enough in his own mind, for he has painted it 
over and over again, sometimes one might think 
almost mechanically, as a pastime during that 
dark period when his thoughts were so heavy 
upon him. Hardly any collection of note is with- 
out one of these circular pictures, into which the 
attendant angels depress their heads so naively. 
Perhaps you have sometimes wondered why 
those peevish-looking Madonnas, conformed to 
no acknowledged or obvious type of beauty, 
attract you more and more, and often come back 
to you when the Sistine Madonna and the Virgins 
of Fra Angelico are forgotten. At first, contrast- 
ing them with those, you may have thought 
that there was something in them mean or abject 
even, for the abstract lines of the face have little 
nobleness, and the colour is wan. For with 
Botticelli she too, though she holds in her hands 
the " Desire of all nations," is one of those who 

56 



SANDRO BOTTICELLI 

are neither for Jehovah nor for His enemies ; 
and her choice is on her face. The white light 
on it is cast ug hard and cheerless from below, 
as when snow lies upon the ground, and the 
children loolT up with surprise at the strange 
whiteness of the ceiling. Her trouble is in the 
very caress of the mysterious child, whose gaze 
is always far from her, and who has already that 
sweet look of devotion which men have never 
been able altogether to love, and which still 
makes the born saint an object almost of sus- 
picion to his earthly brethren. Once, indeed, 
he guides her hand to transcribe in a book the 
words of her exaltation, the Ave, .and the 
Magnificat, and the Gaude Maria, and the young 
angels, glad to rouse her for a moment from her 
dejection, are eager to hold the inkhorn and to 
support the book. But the pen almost drops 
from her hand, and the high cold words have no 
meaning for her, and her true children are those 
others, among whom, in her rude home, the 
intolerable honour came to her, with that look 
of wistful inquiry on their irregular faces which 
you see in startled animals gipsy children, such 
as those who, in Apennine villages, still hold out 
their long brown arms to beg of you, but on 
Sundays become enfants du chceur, with their 
thick black hair nicely combed, and fair white 
linen on their sunburnt throats. 

What is strangest is that he carries this 
sentiment into classical subjects, its most complete 

57 



THE RENAISSANCE 

expression being a picture in the UJfizii, of Venus 
rising from the sea, in which the grotesque 
emblems of the middle age, and a landscape full 
of its peculiar feeling, and even its strange 
draperies, powdered all over in the Gothic manner 
with a quaint conceit of daisies, frame a figure 
that reminds you of the faultless nude studies of 
Ingres. At first, perhaps, you are attracted only 
by a qukintness of design, which seems to recall 
all at once whatever you have read of Florence 
in the fifteenth century ; afterwards you may 
think that this quaintness must be incongruous 
with the subject, and that the colour is cadaverous 
or at least cold. And yet, the more you come 
to understand what imaginative colouring really 
is, that all colour is no mere delightful quality 
of natural things, but a spirit upon them by 
which they become expressive to the spirit, the 
better you will like this peculiar quality of 
colour ; and you will find that quaint design of 
Botticelli's a more direct inlet into the Greek 
temper than the works of the Greeks themselves 
even of the finest period. . Of the Greeks as they 
really were, of their difference from ourselves, of 
the aspects of their outward life, we know far 
more than Botticelli, or his most learned con- 
temporaries ; but for us long familiarity has 
taken off the edge of the lesson, and we are 
hardly conscious of what we owe to the Hellenic 
spirit. But in pictures like this of Botticelli's 
you have a record of the first impression made 

58 



SANDRO BOTTICELLI 

by it on minds turned back towards it, in almost 
painful aspiration, from a world in which it had 
been ignored so long ; and in the passion, the 
energy, the industry of realisation, with which 
Botticelli carries out his intention, is the exact 
measure of the legitimate influence over the 
human mind of the imaginative system of which 
this is perhaps the central myth. The light is in- 
deed cold mere sunless dawn ; but a later.painter 
would have cloyed you with sunshine ; and you 
can see the better for that quietness in the 
morning air each long promontory, as it slopes 
down to the water's edge. Men go forth to 
their labours until the evening ; but she is 
awake before them, and you might think that 
the sorrow in her face was at the thought of the 
whole long day of love yet to come. An 
emblematical figure of the wind blows hard 
across the grey water, moving forward the 
dainty-lipped shell on which she sails, the sea 
" showing his teeth," as it moves, in thin lines of 
foam, and sucking in, one by one, the falling 
roses, each severe in outline, plucked off short at 
the stalk, but embrowned a little, as Botticelli's 
flowers always are. Botticelli meant all this 
imagery to be altogether pleasurable ; and it was 
partly an incompleteness of resources, inseparable 
from the art of that time, that subdued and 
chilled it. But this predilection for minor tones 
counts also ; and what is unmistakable is the 
sadness with which he has conceived the goddess 

59 



THE RENAISSANCE 

of pleasure, as the depositary of a great power 
over the lives of men. 

I have said that the peculiar character of 
Botticelli is the result of a blending in him of 
a sympathy for humanity in its uncertain con- 
dition, its attractiveness, its investiture at rarer 
moments in a character of loveliness and energy, 
with his consciousness of the shadow upon it of 
the .great things from which it shrinks, and that 
this conveys into his work somewhat more than 
painting usually attains of the true complexion 
of humanity. He paints the story of the goddess 
of pleasure in other episodes besides that of her 
birth from the sea, but never without some 
shadow of death in the grey flesh and wan 
flowers. He paints Madonnas, but they shrink 
from the pressure of the divine child, and plead 
in unmistakable undertones for a warmer, lower 
humanity. The same figure tradition connects 
it with Simonetta, the Mistress of Giuliano de* 
Medici appears again as Judith, returning home 
across the hill country, when the great deed is 
over, and the moment of revulsion come, when 
the olive branch in her hand is becoming a 
burthen ; as Justice^ sitting on a throne, but 
with a fixed look of self-hatred which makes 
the sword in her hand seem that of a suicide ; 
and again as Veritas^ in the allegorical picture of 
Calumnia^ where one may note in passing the 
suggestiveness of an accident which identifies 
the image of Truth with the person of Venus. 

60 



SANDRO BOTTICELLI 

We might trace the same sentiment through his 
engravings ; but his share in them is doubtful, 
and the object of this brief study has been 
attained, if I have defined aright the temper in 
which he worked. 

But, after all, it may be asked, is a painter 
like Botticelli a secondary painter, a proper 
subject for general criticism ? There are a few 
great painters, like Michelangelo or Leonardo, 
whose work has become a force in general 
culture, partly for this very reason that they 
have absorbed into themselves all such workmen 
as Sandro Botticelli ; and, over and above mere 
technical or antiquarian criticism, general criti- 
cism may be very well employed in that sort of 
interpretation which adjusts the position of these 
men to general culture, whereas smaller men can 
be the proper subjects only of technical or anti- 
quarian treatment. But, besides those great 
men, there is a certain number of artists who 
have a distinct faculty of their own by which 
they convey to us a peculiar quality of pleasure 
which we cannot get elsewhere ; and these too 
have their place in general culture, and must 
be interpreted to it by those who have felt 
their charm strongly, and are often the object 
of a special diligence and a consideration wholly 
affectionate, just because there is not about them 
the stress of a great name and authority. Of 
this select number Botticelli is one. He has the 
freshness, the uncertain and diffident promise, 

61 



THE RENAISSANCE 

which belong to the earlier Renaissance itself, 
and make it perhaps the most interesting period 
in the history of the mind. In studying his 
work one begins to understand to how great a 
place in human culture the art of Italy had been 
called. 

1870. 



LUCA DELLA ROBBIA 

THE Italian sculptors of the earlier half of the 
fifteenth century are more than mere forerunners 
of the great masters of its close, and often reach 
perfection, within the narrow limits which they 
chose to impose on their work. Their sculpture 
shares with the paintings of Botticelli and the 
churches of Brunelleschi that profound express- 
iveness, that intimate impress of an indwelling 
soul, which is the peculiar fascination of the art 
of Italy in that century. Their works have 
been much neglected, and often almost hidden 
away amid the frippery of modern decoration, 
and we come with some surprise on the places 
where their fire still smoulders. One longs to 
penetrate into the lives of the men who have 
given expression to so much power and sweet- 
ness. But it is part of the reserve, the austere 
dignity and simplicity of their existence, that 
their histories are for the most part lost, or told 
but briefly. From their lives, as from their 
work, all tumult of sound and colour has passed 
away. Mino, the Raphael of sculpture, Maso 
del Rodario, whose works add a further grace to 

63 



THE RENAISSANCE 

the church of Como, Donatello even, one asks 
in vain for more than a shadowy outline of their 
actual days. 

Something more remains of Luca della 
Robbia ; something more of a history, of out- 
ward changes and fortunes, is expressed through 
his work. I suppose nothing brings the real 
air of a Tuscan town so vividly to mind as those 
pieces of pale blue and white earthenware, by 
which he is best known, like fragments of the 
milky sky itself, fallen into the cool streets, and 
breaking into the darkened churches. And no 
work is less imitable : like Tuscan wine, it loses 
its savour when moved from its birthplace, from 
the crumbling walls where it was first placed. 
Part of the charm of this work, its grace and 
purity and finish of expression, is common to all 
the Tuscan sculptors of the fifteenth century ; 
for Luca was first of all a worker in marble, 
and his works in terra cotta only transfer to a 
different material the principles of his sculpture. 

These'Tuscan sculptors of the fifteenth century 
worked for the most part in low relief, giving 
even to their monumental effigies something of 
its depression of surface, getting into them by 
this means a pathetic suggestion of the wasting 
and etherealisation of death. They are haters of 
all heaviness and emphasis, of strongly-opposed 
light and shade, and seek their means of delinea- 
tion among those last refinements of shadow, 
which are almost invisible except in a strong 

64 



LUCA BELLA ROBBIA 

light, and which the finest pencil can hardly 
follow. The whole essence of their work is 
expression, the passing of a smile over the face 
of a child, the ripple of the air on a still day 
over the curtain of a window ajar. 

What is the precise value of this system of 
sculpture, this low relief? Luca della Robbia, 
and the other sculptors of the school to which 
he belongs, have before them the universal 
problem of their art ; and this system of low 
relief is the means by which they meet and 
overcome the special limitation of sculpture. 

That limitation results from the material and 
other necessary conditions of all sculptured work, 
and consists in the tendency of such 'work to 
a hard realism, a one-sided presentment of mere 
form, that solid material frame which only 
motion can relieve, a thing of heavy shadows, 
and an individuality of expression pushed to 
caricature. Against this tendency to the hard 
presentment of mere form trying vainly to com- 
pete with the reality of nature itself, all noble 
sculpture constantly struggles ; each great system 
of sculpture resisting it in its own way, etherealis- 
ing, spiritualising, relieving its stiffness, its heavi- 
ness, and death. The use of colour in sculpture 
is but an unskilful contrivance to effect, by 
borrowing from another art, what the nobler 
sculpture effects by strictly appropriate means. 
To get not colour, but the equivalent of colour ; 
to secure the expression and the play of life ; to 

F 65 



THE RENAISSANCE 

expand the too firmly fixed individuality of 
pure, unrelieved, uncoloured form : this is the 
problem which the three great styles in sculpture 
have solved in three different ways. 

Allgemeinheit breadth, generality, universality, 
is the word chosen by Winckelmann, and after 
him by Goethe and many German critics, to 
express that law of the most excellent Greek 
sculptors, of Pheidias and his pupils, which 
prompted them constantly to seek the type in 
the individual, to abstract and express only what 
is structural and permanent, to purge from the 
individual all that belongs only to him, all the 
accidents, the feelings and actions of the special 
moment, all that (because in its own nature it 
endures but for a moment) is apt to look like a 
frozen thing if one arrests it. 

In this way their works came to be like some 
subtle extract or essence, or almost like pure 
thoughts or ideas : and hence the breadth of 
humanity in them, that detachment from the 
conditions of a particular place or people, which 
has carried their influence far beyond the age 
which produced them, and insured them uni- 
versal acceptance. 

That was the Greek way of relieving the 
hardness and unspirituality of pure form. But 
it involved to a certain degree the sacrifice of 
what we call expression ; and a system of abstrac- 
tion which aimed always at the broad and 
general type, at the purging away from the 

66 



LUCA DELLA ROBBIA 

individual of what belonged only to him, and of 
the mere accidents of a particular time and place, 
imposed upon the range of effects open to the 
Greek sculptor limits somewhat narrowly defined. 
When Michelangelo came, therefore, with a 
genius spiritualised by the reverie of the middle 
age, penetrated by its spirit of inwardness and 
introspection, living not a mere outward life like 
the Greek, but a life full of intimate experiences, 
sorrows, consolations, a system which sacrificed 
so much of what was inward and unseen could 
not satisfy him. To him, lover and student of 
Greek sculpture as he was, work which did not 
bring what was inward to the surface, which was 
not concerned with individual expression, with 
individual character and feeling, the special 
history of the special soul, was not worth doing 
at all. 

And so, in a way quite personal and peculiar 
to himself, which often is, and always seems, 
the effect of accident, he secured for his work 
individuality and intensity of expression, while he 
avoided a too heavy realism, that tendency to 
harden into caricature which the representation 
of feeling in sculpture is apt to display. What 
time and accident, its centuries of darkness under 
the furrows of the "little Melian farm," have 
done with singular felicity of touch for the 
Venus of Melos, fraying its surface and softening 
its lines, so that some spirit in the thing seems 
always on the point of breaking out, as though 

67 



THE RENAISSANCE 

in it classical sculpture had advanced already one 
step into the mystical Christian age, its expression 
being in the whole range of ancient work most 
like that of Michelangelo's own : this effect 
Michelangelo gains by leaving nearly all his 
sculpture in a puzzling sort of incompleteness, 
which suggests rather than realises actual form. 
Something of the wasting of that snow-image 
which he moulded at the command of Piero de* 
Medici, when the snow lay one night in the 
court of the Pitti palace, almost always lurks 
about it, as if he had determined to make the 
quality of a task, exacted from him half in 
derision, the pride of all his work. Many have 
wondered at that incompleteness, suspecting, 
however, that Michelangelo himself loved and 
was loath to change it, and feeling at the same 
time that they too would lose something if the 
half-realised form ever quite emerged from the 
stone, so rough-hewn here, so delicately finished 
there ; 'and they have wished to fathom the 
charm of this incompleteness. Well ! that 
incompleteness is Michelangelo's equivalent for 
colour in sculpture ; it is his way of etherealising 
pure form, of relieving its stiff realism, and 
communicating to it breath, pulsation, the effect 
of life. It was a characteristic too which fell in 
with his peculiar temper and mode of living, his 
disappointments and hesitations. And it was in 
reality perfect finish. In this way he combines 
the utmost amount of passion and intensity with 

68 



LUCA DELLA ROBBIA 

the sense of a yielding and flexible life : he gets 
not vitality merely, but a wonderful force of 
expression. 

Midway between these two systems the 
system of the, Greek sculptors and the system of 
Michelangelo comes the system of Luca della 
Robbia and the other Tuscan sculptors of the 
fifteenth century, partaking both of the Allgemem- 
heit of the Greeks, their way of extracting certain 
select elements only of pure form and sacrific- 
ing all the rest, and the studied incompleteness 
of Michelangelo, relieving that sense of in- 
tensity, passion, energy, which might other- 
wise have stiffened into caricature. Like 
Michelangelo, these sculptors fill their works 
with intense and individualised expression. Their 
noblest works are the careful sepulchral portraits 
of particular persons the monument of Conte 
Ugo in the Eadia of Florence, of the youthful 
Medea Colleoni, with the wonderful, long throat, 
in the chapel on the cool north side of the 
Church of Santa Maria Maggiore at Bergamo 
monuments such as abound in the churches of 
Rome, inexhaustible in suggestions of repose, of 
a subdued Sabbatic joy, a kind of sacred grace 
and refinement. And these elements of tran- 
quillity, of repose, they unite to an intense and 
individual expression by a system of convention- 
alism as skilful and subtle as that of the Greeks, 
repressing all such curves as indicate solid form, 
and throwing the whole into low relief. 

69 



THE RENAISSANCE 

The life of Luca, a life of labour and frugality, 
with no adventure and no excitement except what 
belongs to the trial of new artistic processes, the 
struggle with new artistic difficulties, the solu- 
tion of purely artistic problems, fills the first 
seventy years of the fifteenth century. After 
producing many works in marble for the Duomo 
and the Campanile of Florence, which place him 
among the foremost masters of the sculpture of 
his age, he became desirous to realise the spirit 
and manner of that sculpture, in a humbler 
material, to unite its science, its exquisite and 
expressive system of low relief, to the homely art 
of pottery, to introduce those high qualities into 
common things, to adorn and cultivate daily house- 
hold life. In this he is profoundly characteristic 
of the Florence of that century, of that in it which 
lay below its superficial vanity and caprice, a 
certain old-world modesty and seriousness and 
simplicity. People had not yet begun to think 
that what was good art for churches was not 
so good, or less fitted, for their own houses. 
Luca's new work was in plain white earthen- 
ware at first, a mere rough imitation of the 
costly, laboriously wrought marble, finished in 
a few hours. But on this humble path he 
found his way to a fresh success, to another 
artistic grace. The fame of the oriental pottery, 
with its strange, bright colours colours of art, 
colours not to be attained in the natural stone 
mingled with the tradition of the old Roman 

70 



LUCA BELLA ROBBIA 

pottery of the neighbourhood. The little red, 
coral-like jars of Arezzo, dug up in that district 
from time to time, are much prized. These 
colours haunted Luca's fancy. " He still con- 
tinued seeking something more," his biographer 
says of him ; " and instead of making his figures 
of baked earth simply white, he added the 
further invention of giving them colour, to the 
astonishment and delight of all who beheld 
them " Cos a singolare^ e multo utile per la state ! 
a curious thing, and very useful for summer- 
time, full of coolness and repose for hand and 
eye. Luca loved the form& of various fruits, and 
wrought them into all sorts of marvellous frames 
and garlands, giving them their natural colours, 
only subdued a little, a little paler than nature. 

J^ said that the art of Luca della Robbia 
possessed in an unusual measure that special 
characteristic which belongs to all the work- 
men of his school, a characteristic which, even 
in the absence of much positive information about 
their actual history, seems to bring those work- 
men themselves very near to us. They bear the 
impress of a personal quality, a profund expressive- 
ness, what the French call intimite, by which is 
meant some subtler sense of originality the 
seal on a man's work of what is most inward 
and peculiar in his moods, and manner of 
apprehension : it is what we call expression^ 
carried to its highest intensity of degree. 
That characteristic is rare in poetry, rarer still 



THE RENAISSANCE 

in art, rarest of all in the abstract art of 
sculpture ; yet essentially, perhaps, it is the 
quality which alone makes work in the ima- 
ginative order really worth having at all. It is 
because the works of the artists of the fifteenth 
century possess this quality in an unmistakable 
way that one is anxious to know all that can be 
known about them and explain to one's self the 
secret of their charm. 

1872. 



THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO 

CRITICS of Michelangelo have sometimes spoken 
as if the only characteristic of his genius were a 
wonderful strength, verging, as in the things of 
the imagination great strength always does, on 
what is singular or strange. A certain strange- 
ness, something of the blossoming of -the aloe, 
is indeed an element in all true works of art : 
that they shall excite or surprise us is indispen- 
sable. But that they shall give pleasure and exert 
a charm over us is indispensable too ; and this 
strangeness must be sweet also a lovely strange- 
ness. And to the true admirers of Michelangelo 
this is the true type of the Michelangelesque 
sweetness and strength, pleasure with surprise, 
an energy of conception which seems at every 
moment about to break through all the con- 
ditions of comely form, recovering, touch by 
touch, a loveliness found usually only in the 
simplest natural things exforti dulcedo. 

In this way he sums up for them the whole 
character of medieval art itself in that which 
distinguishes it most clearly from classical work, 
the presence of a convulsive energy in it, be- 

73 



THE RENAISSANCE 

coming in lower hands merely monstrous or 
forbidding, and felt, even in its most graceful 
products, as a subdued quaintness or grotesque. 
Yet those who feel this grace or sweetness in 
Michelangelo might at the first moment be 
puzzled if they were asked wherein precisely 
such quality resided. Men of inventive tempera- 
ment Victor Hugo, for instance, in whom, as 
in Michelangelo, people have for the most part 
been attracted or repelled by the strength, while 
few have understood his sweetness have some- 
times relieved conceptions of merely moral or 
spiritual greatness, but with little aesthetic 
charm of their own, by lovely accidents or 
accessories, like the butterfly which alights on 
the blood-stained barricade in Les Miserable*, 
or those sea-birds for whom the monstrous 
Gilliatt comes to be as some wild natural 
thing, so that they are no longer afraid of 
him, in Les Travailleurs de la Mer. But the 
austere genius of Michelangelo will not depend 
for its sweetness on any mere accessories like 
these. The world of natural things has almost 
no existence for him ; " When one speaks of 
him," says Grimrn, "woods, clouds, seas, and 
mountains disappear, and only what is formed 
by the spirit of man remains behind " ; and he 
quotes a few slight words from a letter of his 
to Vasari as the single expression in all he has 
left of a feeling for nature. He has traced no 
flowers, like those with which Leonardo stars 

74 



THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO 

over his gloomiest rocks ; nothing like the fret- 
work of wings and flames in which Blake frames 
his most startling conceptions. No forest-scenery 
like Titian's fills his backgrounds, but only blank 
ranges of rock, and dim vegetable forms as blank 
as they, as in a world before the creation of the 
first five days. 

Of the whole story of the creation he has 
painted only the creation of the first man and 
woman, and, for him at least, feebly, the creation 
of light. It belongs to the quality of his genius 
thus to concern itself almost exclusively with the 
making of man. For him it is not, as in the 
story itself, the last and crowning act of a series 
of developments, but the first and unique act, 
the creation of life itself in its supreme form, 
off-hand and immediately, in the cold and lifeless 
stone. With him the beginning of life has all 
the characteristics of resurrection ; it is like the 
recovery of suspended health or animation, with 
its gratitude, its effusion, and eloquence. Fair 
as the young men of the Elgin marbles, the 
Adam of the Sistine Chapel is unlike them in a 
total absence of that balance and completeness 
which express so well the sentiment of a self- 
contained, independent life. In that languid 
figure there is something rude and satyr -like, 
something akin to the rugged hillside on which 
it lies. His whole form is gathered into an 
expression of mere expectancy and reception ; 
he has hardly strength enough to lift his finger 

75 



THE RENAISSANCE 

to touch the finger of the creator ; yet a touch 
of the finger-tips will suffice. 

This creation of life life coming always as 
relief or recovery, and always in strong contrast 
with the rough-hewn mass in which it is kindled 
is in various ways the motive of all his work, 
whether its immediate subject be Pagan or 
Christian, legend or allegory ; and this, although 
at least one-half of his work was designed for the 
adornment of tombs the tomb of Julius, the 
tombs of the Medici. Not the Judgment but 
the Resurrection is the real subject of his last 
work in the Sistine Chapel ; and his favourite 
Pagan subject is the legend of Leda, the delight 
of the world breaking from the egg of a bird. 
As I have already pointed out, he secures that 
ideality of expression which in Greek sculpture 
depends on a delicate system of abstraction, and 
in early Italian sculpture on lowness of relief, 
by an incompleteness, which is surely not always 
undesigned, and which, as I think, no one regrets, 
and trusts to the spectator to complete the half- 
emergent form. And as his persons have^ some- 
thing of the unwrought stone about the'm, so, 
as if to realise the expression by which the old 
Florentine records describe a sculptor master 
of live stone with him the very rocks seem to 
have life. They have but to cast away the dust 
and scurf that they may rise and stand on their 
feet. He loved the very quarries of Carrara, 
those strange grey peaks which even at mid-day 

76 



THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO 

convey into any scene from which they are 
visible something of the solemnity and stillness 
of evening, sometimes wandering among them 
month after month, till at last their pale ashen 
colours seem to have passed into his painting ; 
and on the crown of the head of the David there 
still remains a morsel of uncut stone, as if by one 
touch to maintain its connexion with the place 
from which it was hewn. 

And it is in this penetrative suggestion of life 
that the secret of that sweetness of his is to be 
found. He gives us indeed no lovely natural 
objects like Leonardo or Titian, but only the 
coldest, most elementary shadowing of rock or 
tree ; no lovely draperies and comely gestures of 
life, but only the austere truths of human nature ; 
"simple persons" as he replied in his rough 
way to the querulous criticism of Julius the 
Second, that there was no gold on the figures of 
the Sistine Chapel u simple persons, who wore 
no gold on their garments " ; but he penetrates 
us with a feeling of that power which we 
associate with all the warmth and fulness of the 
world, the sense of which brings into one's 
thoughts a swarm of birds and flowers and insects. 
The brooding spirit of life itself is there ; and 
the summer may burst out in a moment. 

He was born in an interval of a rapid mid- 
night journey in March, at a place in the neigh- 
bourhood of Arezzo, the thin, clear air of which 
was then thought to be favourable to the 

77 



THE RENAISSANCE 

birth of children of great parts. He came of a 
race of grave and dignified men, who, claiming 
kinship with the family of Canossa, and some 
colour of imperial blood in their veins, had, 
generation after generation, received honourable 
employment under the government of Florence. 
His mother, a girl of nineteen years, put him 
out to nurse at a country house among the hills 
of Settignano, where every other inhabitant is a 
worker in the marble quarries, and the child 
early became familiar with that strange first 
stage in the sculptor's art. To this succeeded 
the influence of the sweetest and most placid 
master Florence had yet seen, Domenico Ghir- 
landajo. At fifteen he was at work among the 
curiosities of the garden of the Medici, copying 
and restoring antiques, winning the condescend- 
ing notice of the great Lorenzo. He knew too 
how to excite strong hatreds ; and it was at this 
time that in a quarrel with a fellow-student he 
received a blow on the face which deprived him 
for ever of the comeliness of outward form. 

It was through an accident that he came to 
study those works of the early Italian sculptors 
which suggested much of his own grandest work, 
and impressed it with so deep a sweetness. He 
believed in dreams and omens. One of his friends 
dreamed twice that Lorenzo, then lately dead, 
appeared to him in grey and dusty apparel. To 
Michelangelo this dream seemed to portend the 
troubles which afterwards really came, and with 

78 



THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO 

the suddenness which was characteristic of all 
his movements, he left Florence. Having 
occasion to pass through Bologna, he neglected 
to procure the little seal of red wax which the 
stranger entering Bologna must carry on the 
thumb of his right hand. He had no money 
to pay the fine, and would have been thrown 
into prison had not one of the magistrates inter- 
posed. He remained in this man's house a 
whole year, rewarding his hospitality by readings 
from the Italian poets whom he loved. Bologna, 
with its endless colonnades and fantastic leaning 
towers, can never have been one of the lovelier 
cities of Italy. But about the portals of its vast 
unfinished churches and its dark shrines, half 
hidden by votive flowers and candles, lie some of 
the sweetest works of the early Tuscan sculptors, 
Giovanni da Pisa and Jacopo della Quercia, things 
as winsome as flowers ; and the year which 
Michelangelo spent in copying these works was 
not a lost year. It was now, on returning to 
Florence, that he put forth that unique present- 
ment of Bacchus, which expresses, not the mirth- 
fulness of the god of wine, but his sleepy serious- 
ness, his enthusiasm, his capacity for profound 
dreaming. No one ever expressed more truly 
than Michelangelo the notion of inspired sleep, of 
faces charged with dreams. A vast fragment of 
marble had long lain below the Loggia of Orcagna, 
and many a sculptor had had his thoughts of a 
design which should just fill this famous block of 

79 



THE RENAISSANCE 

stone, cutting the diamond, as it were, without 
loss. Under Michelangelo's hand it became the 
David which stood till lately on the steps of the 
Palazzo Vecchio^ when it was replaced below the 
Loggia. Michelangelo was now thirty years old, 
and his reputation was established. Three great 
works fill the remainder of his life three works 
often interrupted, carried on through a thousand 
hesitations, a thousand disappointments, quarrels 
with his patrons, quarrels with his family, quarrels 
perhaps most of all with himself the Sistine 
Chapel, the Mausoleum of Julius the Second, 
and the Sacristy of San Lorenzo. 

In the story of Michelangelo's life the strength, 
often turning to bitterness, is not far to seek. A 
discordant note sounds throughout it which almost 
spoils the music. He " treats the Pope as the 
King of France himself would not dare to treat 
him " : he goes along the streets of Rome " like 
an executioner," Raphael says of him. Once he 
seems to have shut himself up with the intention 
of starving himself to death. As we come, in 
reading his life, on its harsh, untempered incidents, 
the thought again and again arises that he is one 
of those who incur the judgment of Dante, as 
having "wilfully lived in sadness." Even his 
tenderness and pity are embittered by their 
strength. What passionate weeping in that 
mysterious figure which, in the Creation of Adam , 
crouches below the image of the Almighty, as 
he comes with the forms of things to be, woman 

80 



THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO 

and her progeny, in the fold of his garment ! 
What a sense of wrong in those two captive 
youths, who feel the chains like scalding water 
on their proud and delicate flesh ! The idealist 
who became a reformer with Savonarola, and a 
republican superintending the fortification of 
Florence the nest where he was born, il nldo 
ove naqqutO) as he calls it once, in a sudden throb 
of affection in its last struggle for liberty, yet 
believed always that he had imperial blood in 
his veins and was of the kindred of the great 
Matilda, had within the depths of his nature 
some secret spring of indignation or sorrow. We 
know little of his youth, but all tends to make 
one believe in the vehemence of its' passions. 
Beneath the Platonic calm of the sonnets there 
is latent a deep delight in carnal form and colour. 
There, and still more in the madrigals, he often 
falls into the language of less tranquil affections ; 
while some of them have the colour of penitence, 
as from a wanderer returning home. He who 
spoke so decisively of the supremacy in the 
imaginative world of the unveiled human form 
had not been always, we may think, a mere 
Platonic lover. Vague and wayward his loves 
may have been ; but they partook of the strength 
of his nature, and sometimes, it may be, would 
by no means become music, so that the comely 
order of his days was quite put out : par che 
amaro ogni mio dolce to senta. 

But his genius is in harmony with itself ; and 

c 81 



THE RENAISSANCE 

just as in the products of his art we find resources 
of sweetness within their exceeding strength, so 
in his own story also, bitter as the ordinary sense 
of it may be, there are select pages shut in among 
the rest pages one might easily turn over too 
lightly, but which yet sweeten the whole volume. 
The interest of Michelangelo's poems is that 
they make us spectators of this struggle ; the 
struggle of a strong nature to adorn and attune 
itself; the struggle of a desolating passion, which 
yearns to be resigned and sweet and pensive, as 
Dante's was. It is a consequence of the occasional 
and informal character of his poetry, that it brings 
us nearer to himself, his own mind and temper, 
than any work done only to support a literary 
reputation could possibly do. His letters tell us 
little that is worth knowing about him a few 
poor quarrels about money and commissions. 
But it is quite otherwise with these songs and 
sonnets, written down at odd moments, some- 
times on the margins of his sketches, themselves 
often unfinished sketches, arresting some salient 
feeling or unpremeditated idea as it passed. And 
it happens that a true study of these has become 
within the last few years for the first time possible. 
A few of the sonnets circulated widely in manu- 
script, and became almost within Michelangelo's 
own lifetime a subject of academical discourses. 
But they were first collected in a volume in 1623 
by the great-nephew of Michelangelo, Michel- 
angelo Buonarroti the younger. He omitted 

82 



THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO 

much, re-wrote the sonnets in part, and some- 
times compressed two or more compositions into 
one, always losing something of the force and 
incisiveness of the original. So the book remained, 
neglected even by Italians themselves in the last 
century, through the influence of that French 
taste which despised all compositions of the 
kind, as it despised and neglected Dante. " His 
reputation will ever be on the increase, because 
he is so little read," says Voltaire of Dante. 
But in 1858 the last of the Buonarroti bequeathed 
to the municipality of Florence the curiosities of 
his family. Among them was a precious volume 
containing the autograph of the sonnets. A 
learned Italian, Signer Cesare Guasti, undertook 
to collate this autograph with other manuscripts 
at the Vatican and elsewhere, and in 1863 pub- 
lished a true version of Michelangelo's poems, 
with dissertations and a paraphrase. 1 

People have often spoken of these poems as if 
they were a mere cry of distress, a lover's com- 
plaint over the obduracy of Vittoria Colonna. But 
those who speak thus forget that though it is quite 
possible that Michelangelo had seen Vittoria, that 
somewhat shadowy figure, as early as 1537, Y et 
their closer intimacy did not begin till about the 
year 1 542, when Michelangelo was nearly seventy 
years old. Vittoria herself, an ardent neo-catholic, 
vowed to perpetual widowhood since the news 

1 The sonnets have been translated into English, with much 
skill and poetic taste, by Mr. J. A. Symonds. 

83 



THE RENAISSANCE 

had reached her, seventeen years before, that her 
husband, the youthful and princely Marquess of 
Pescara, lay dead of the wounds he had received in 
the battle of Pavia, was then no longer an object 
of great passion. In a dialogue written by the 
painter, Francesco d' Ollanda, we catch a glimpse 
of them together in an empty church at Rome, 
one Sunday afternoon, dicussing indeed the 
characteristics of various schools of art, but still 
more the writings of Saint Paul, already follow- 
ing the ways and tasting the sunless pleasures of 
weary people, whose care for external things is 
slackening. In a letter still extant he regrets 
that when he visited her after death he had 
kissed her hands only. He made, or set to work 
to make, a crucifix for her use, and two drawings, 
perhaps in preparation for it, are now in Oxford. 
From allusions in the sonnets, we may divine 
that when they first approached each other he 
had debated much with himself whether this 
last passion would be the most unsoftening, the 
most desolating of all un dolce amaro, un si e no 
mi muovi. Is it carnal affection, or, del suo prestino 
stato (of Plato's ante-natal state) // raggio ardente ? 
The older, conventional criticism, dealing with 
the text of 1623, had lightly assumed that all or 
nearly all the sonnets were actually addressed to 
Vittoria herself; but Signor Guasti finds only 
four, or at most five, which can be so attributed 
on genuine authority. Still, there are reasons 
which make him assign the majority of them to 

84 



THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO 

the period between 1 542 and 1 547, and we may 
regard the volume as a record of this resting-place 
in Michelangelo's story. We know how Goethe 
escaped from the stress of sentiments too strong 
for him by making a book about them ; and 
for Michelangelo, to write down his passionate 
thoughts at all, to express them in a sonnet, was 
already in some measure to command, and have 
his way with them 

La vita del mia amor non e il cor mio y 

Ch* amor^ di quel ch* to f amo, e senza core. 

It was just because Vittoria raised no great 
passion that the space in his life where she reigns 
has such peculiar suavity ; and the spirit of the 
sonnets is lost if we once take them out of that 
dreamy atmosphere in which men have things 
as they will, because the hold of all outward 
things upon them is faint and uncertain. Their 
prevailing tone is a calm and meditative sweetness. 
The cry of distress is indeed there, but as a mere 
residue, a trace of bracing chalybeate salt, just 
discernible in the song which rises like a clear, 
sweet spring from a charmed space in his life. 

This charmed and temperate space in Michel- 
angelo's life, without which its excessive strength 
would have been so imperfect, which saves him 
from the judgment of Dante on those who " wil- 
fully lived in sadness," is then a well-defined 
period there, reaching from the year 1542 to 
the year 1547, the year of Vittoria's death. In 

85 



THE RENAISSANCE 

it the lifelong effort to tranquillise his vehement 
emotions by withdrawing them into the region 
of ideal sentiment, becomes successful ; and the 
significance of Vittoria is, that she realises for 
him a type of affection which even in disappoint- 
ment may charm and sweeten his spirit. 

In this effort to tranquillise and sweeten life 
by idealising its vehement sentiments, there were 
two great traditional types, either of which an 
Italian of the sixteenth century might have 
followed. There was Dante, whose little book 
of the Vita Nuova had early become a pattern of 
imaginative love, maintained somewhat feebly by 
the later followers of Petrarch ; and, since Plato 
had become something more than a name in 
Italy by the publication of the Latin translation 
of his works by Marsilio Ficino, there was the 
Platonic tradition also. Dante's belief in the 
resurrection of the body, through which, even 
in heaven, Beatrice loses for him no tinge of 
flesh-colour, or fold of raiment even ; and the 
Platonic dream of the passage of the soul through 
one form of life after another, with its passionate 
haste to escape from the burden of bodily form 
altogether ; are, for all effects of art or poetry, 
principles diametrically opposite. Now it is the 
Platonic tradition rather than Dante's that has 
moulded Michelangelo's verse. In many ways 
no sentiment could have been less like Dante's 
love for Beatrice than Michelangelo's for Vittoria 
Colonna. Dante's comes in early youth : Beatrice 

86 



THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO 

is a child, with the wistful, ambiguous vision of a 
child, with a character still unaccentuated by the 
influence of outward circumstances, almost ex- 
pressionless. Vittoria, on the other hand, is a 
woman already weary, in advanced age, of grave 
intellectual qualities. Dante's story is a piece of 
figured work, inlaid with lovely incidents. In 
Michelangelo's poems, frost and fire are almost 
the only images the refining fire of the gold- 
smith ; once or twice the phcenix ; ice melting at 
the fire ; fire struck from the rock which it after- 
wards consumes. Except one doubtful allusion to 
a journey, there are almost no incidents. But 
there is much of the bright, sharp, unerring skill, 
with which in boyhood he gave the look of age 
to the head of a faun by chipping a tooth from its 
jaw with a single stroke of the hammer. For 
Dante, the amiable and devout materialism of the 
middle age sanctifies all that is presented by hand 
and eye ; while Michelangelo is always pressing 
forward from the outward beauty il bel delfuor 
che agli occhi place^ to apprehend the unseen 
beauty ; trascenda nella forma universale that 
abstract form of beauty, about which the 
Platonists reason. And this gives the impres- 
sion in him of something flitting and unfixed, of 
the houseless and complaining spirit, almost 
clairvoyant through the frail and yielding flesh. 
He accounts for love at first sight by a previous 
state of existence la dove io f amai prima. 

And yet there are many points in which he 

87 



THE RENAISSANCE 

is really like Dante, and comes very near to the 
original image, beyond those later and feebler 
followers in the wake of Petrarch. He learns 
from Dante rather than from Plato, that for 
lovers, the surfeiting of desire ovegran de sir gran 
copia affrena^ is a state less happy than poverty 
with abundance of hope una miseria di speranza 
plena. He recalls him in the repetition of the 
words gentile and cortesia^ in the personification of 
Amor^ in the tendency to dwell minutely on the 
physical effects of the presence of a beloved object 
on the pulses and the heart. Above all, he 
resembles Dante in the warmth and intensity of 
his political utterances, for the lady of one of his 
noblest sonnets was from the first understood to 
be the city of Florence ; and he avers that all 
must be asleep in heaven, if she, who was created 
" of angelic form," for a thousand lovers, is appro- 
priated by one alone, some Piero, or Alessandro 
de' Medici. Once and again he introduces Love 
and Death, who dispute concerning him. For, 
like Dante and all the nobler souls of Italy, he 
is much occupied with thoughts of the grave, 
and his true mistress is death, death at first as 
the worst of all sorrows and disgraces, with a 
clod of the field for its brain ; afterwards, death 
in its high distinction, its detachment from 
vulgar needs, the angry stains of life and action 
escaping fast. 

Some of those whom the gods love "die young. 
This man, because the gods loved him, lingered 

88 



THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO 

on to be of immense, patriarchal age, till the 
sweetness it had taken so long to secrete in him 
was found at last. Out of the strong came 
forth sweetness, ex forti dulcedo. The world had 
changed around him. The "new Catholicism" 
had taken the place of the Renaissance. The 
spirit of the Roman Church had changed : in the 
vast world's cathedral which his skill had helped 
to raise for it, it looked stronger than ever. Some 
of the first members of the Oratory were among 
his intimate associates. They were of a spirit 
as unlike as possible from that of Lorenzo, or 
Savonarola even. The opposition of the Refor- 
mation to art has been often enlarged upon ; far 
greater was that of the Catholic revival. But 
in thus fixing itself in a frozen orthodoxy, the 
Roman Church had passed beyond him, and 
he was a stranger to it. In earlier days, when 
its beliefs had been in a fluid state, he too 
might have been drawn into the controversy. 
He might have been for spiritualising the papal 
sovereignty, like Savonarola ; or for adjusting 
the dreams of Plato and Homer with the words 
of Christ, like Pico of Mirandola. But things 
had moved onward, and such adjustments were 
no longer possible. For himself, he had long 
since fallen back on that divine ideal, which 
above the wear and tear of creeds has been form- 
ing itself for ages as the possession of nobler 
souls. And now he began to feel the soothing 
influence which since that time the Roman 

89 



THE RENAISSANCE 

Church has often exerted over spirits too inde- 
pendent to be its subjects, yet brought within 
the neighbourhood of its action ; consoled and 
tranquillised, as a traveller might be, resting for 
one evening in a strange city, by its stately 
aspect and the sentiment of its many fortunes, 
just because with those fortunes he has nothing 
to do. So he lingers on ; a revenant, as the 
French say, a ghost out of another age, in a 
world too coarse to touch his faint sensibilities 
very closely ; dreaming, in a worn-out society, 
theatrical in its life, theatrical in its art, theatrical 
even in its devotion, on the morning of the world's 
history, on the primitive form of man, on the 
images under which that primitive world had 
conceived of spiritual forces. 

I have dwelt on the thought of Michelangelo 
as thus lingering beyond his time in a world not 
his own, because, if one is to distinguish the 
peculiar savour of his work, he must be ap- 
proached, not through his followers, but through 
his predecessors ; not through the marbles of 
Saint Pefer's, but through the work of the 
sculptors of the fifteenth century over the tombs 
and altars of Tuscany. He is the last of the 
Florentines, of those on whom the peculiar 
sentiment of the Florence of Dante and Giotto 
descended : he is the consummate representative 
of the form that sentiment took in the fifteenth 
century with men like Luca Signorelli and Mino 

90 



THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO 

da Fiesole. Up to him the tradition of senti- 
ment is unbroken, the progress towards surer 
and more mature methods of expressing that 
sentiment continuous. But his professed disciples 
did not share this temper ; they are in love with 
his strength only, and seem not to feel his grave 
and temperate sweetness. Theatricality is their 
chief characteristic ; and that is a quality as little 
attributable to Michelangelo as to Mino or Luca 
Signorelli. With him, as with them, all is 
serious, passionate, impulsive. 

This discipleship of Michelangelo, this de- 
pendence of his on the tradition of the Florentine 
schools, is nowhere seen more clearly than in his 
treatment of the .Creation. The Creation of Man 
had haunted the mind of the middle age like a 
dream ; and weaving it into a hundred carved 
ornaments of capital or doorway, the Italian 
sculptors had early impressed upon it that preg- 
nancy of expression which seems to give it many 
veiled meanings. As with other artistic con- 
ceptions of the middle age, its treatment became 
almost conventional, handed on from artist to 
artist, with slight changes, till it came to have 
almost an independent and abstract existence of its 
own. It was characteristic of the medieval mind 
thus to give an independent traditional existence 
to a special pictorial conception, or to a legend, 
like that of Tristram or Tannhduser^ or even to 
the very thoughts and substance of a book, like 
the Imitation^ so that no single workman could 



THE RENAISSANCE 

claim it as his own, and the book, the image, the 
legend, had itself a legend, and its fortunes, and 
a personal history ; and it is a sign of the 
medievalism of Michelangelo, that he thus re- 
ceives from tradition his central conception, and 
does but add the last touches, in transferring it 
to the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. 

But there was another tradition of those earlier, 
more serious Florentines, of which Michelangelo 
is the inheritor, to which he gives the final 
expression, and which centres in the sacristy of 
San Lorenzo, as the tradition of the Creation 
centres in the Sistine Chapel. It has been said 
that all the great Florentines were preoccupied 
with death. Outre-tombe ! Outre-tombe ! is the 
burden of their thoughts, from Dante to Savona- 
rola. Even the gay and licentious Boccaccio 
gives a keener edge to his stories by putting them 
in the mouths of a party of people who had taken 
refuge in a country-house from the danger of 
death by plague. It was to this inherited senti- 
ment, this practical decision that to be pre- 
occupied with the thought of death was in itself 
dignifying, and a note of high quality, that the 
seriousness of the great Florentines of the fifteenth 
century was partly due ; and it was reinforced in 
them by the actual sorrows of their times. How 
often, and in what various ways, had they seen 
life stricken down, in their streets and houses/ 
La bella Simonetta dies in early youth, and is 
borne to the grave with uncovered face. The 

92 



THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO 

young Cardinal Jacopo di Portogallo dies on a 
visit to Florence insignis forma fui et mirabili 
modestia his epitaph dares to say. Antonio 
Rossellino carves his tomb in the church of San 
Miniato, with care for the shapely hands and 
feet, and sacred attire ; Luca della Robbia puts 
his skyiest works there ; and the tomb of 
the youthful and princely prelate became the 
strangest and most beautiful thing in that strange 
and beautiful place. After the execution of the 
Pazzi conspirators, Botticelli is employed to paint 
their portraits. This preoccupation with serious 
thoughts and sad images might easily have 
resulted, as it did, for instance, in the gloomy 
villages of the Rhine, or in the overcrowded 
parts of medieval Paris, as it still does in many 
a village of the Alps, in something merely 
morbid or grotesque, in the Danse Macabre of 
many French and German painters, or the grim 
inventions of Diirer. From such a result the 
Florentine masters of the fifteenth century were 
saved by the nobility of their Italian culture, 
and still more by their tender pity for the thing 
itself. They must often have leaned over the 
lifeless body, when all was at length quiet and 
smoothed out. After death, it is said, the traces 
of slighter and more superficial dispositions dis- 
appear ; the lines become more simple and 
dignified ; only the abstract lines remain, in a 
great indifference. They came thus to see death 
in its distinction. Then following it perhaps one 

93 



THE RENAISSANCE 

stage further, dwelling for a moment on the 
point where all this transitory dignity must 
break up, and discerning with no clearness a 
new body, they paused just in time, and abstained, 
with a sentiment of profound pity. 

Of all this sentiment Michelangelo is the 
achievement ; and, first of all, of pity. Pieta, 
pity, the pity of the Virgin Mother over the 
dead body of Christ, expanded into the pity of 
all mothers over all dead sons, the entombment, 
with its cruel " hard stones " : this is the subject 
of his predilection. He has left it in many 
forms, sketches, half- finished designs, finished 
and unfinished groups of sculpture ; but always 
as a hopeless, rayless, almost heathen sorrow no 
divine sorrow, but mere pity and awe at the stiff 
limbs and colourless lips. There is a drawing 
of his at Oxford, in which the dead body has 
sunk to the earth between the mother's feet, 
with the arms extended over her knees. The 
tombs in the sacristy of San Lorenzo are 
memorials, not of any* of the nobler and greater 
Medici, but of Giuliano, and Lorenzo the 
younger, noticeable chiefly for their somewhat 
early death. It is mere human nature therefore 
which has prompted the sentiment here. The 
titles assigned traditionally to the four symbolical 
figures, Night and Day, The Twilight and The 
Dawn, are far too definite for them ; for these 
figures come much nearer to the mind and spirit 
of their author, and are a more direct expression 

94 



THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO 

of his thoughts, than any merely symbolical con- 
ceptions could possibly have been. They con- 
centrate and express, less by way of definite 
conceptions than by the touches, the promptings 
of a piece of music, all those vague fancies, 
misgivings, presentiments, which shift and mix 
and are defined and fade again, whenever the 
thoughts try to fix themselves with sincerity 
on the conditions and surroundings of the dis- 
embodied spirit. _I_suppose no one would come 
to the sacristy of San Lorenzo for consolation ; 
for seriousness, for solemnity, for dignity of im- 
pression, perhaps, but not for consolation. It is a 
place neither of consoling nor of terrible thoughts, 
but of vague and wistful speculation'. Here, 
again, Michelangelo is the disciple not so much 
of Dante as of the Platonists. Dante's belief in 
immortality is formal, precise and firm, almost 
as much so as that of a child, who thinks the 
dead will hear if you cry loud enough. But in 
Michelangelo you have maturity, the mind of 
the grown man, dealing cautiously and dispassion- 
ately with serious things ; and what hope he has 
is based on the consciousness of ignorance ignor- 
ance of man, ignorance of the nature of the 
mind, its origin and capacities. Michelangelo 
is so ignorant of the spiritual world, of the new 
body and its laws, that he does not surely know 
whether the consecrated Host may not be the 
body of Christ. And of all that range of senti- 
ment he is the poet, a poet still alive, and in 

95 



THE RENAISSANCE 

possession of our inmost thoughts dumb inquiry 
over the relapse after death into the formlessness 
which preceded life, the change, the revolt from 
that change, then the correcting, hallowing, con- 
soling rush of pity ; at last, far off, thin and 
vague, yet not more vague than the most definite 
thoughts men have had through three centuries 
on a matter that has been so near their hearts, 
the new body a passing light, a mere intangible, 
external effect, over those too rigid, or too 
formless faces ; a dream that lingers a moment, 
retreating in the dawn, incomplete, aimless, help- 
less ; a thing with faint hearing, faint memory, 
faint power of touch ; a breath, a flame in the 
doorway, a feather in the wind. 

The qualities of the great masters in art or 
literature, the combination of those qualities, the 
laws by which they moderate, support, relieve 
each other, are not peculiar to them ; but most 
often typical standards, or revealing instances of 
the laws by which certain aesthetic effects are 
produced. The old masters indeed are simpler ; 
their characteristics are written larger, and are 
easier to read, than the analogues of them in all 
the mixed, confused productions of the modern 
mind. But when once we have succeeded in de- 
fining for ourselves those characteristics, and the 
law of their combination, we have acquired a 
standard or measure which helps us to put in its 
right place many a vagrant genius, many an un- 
classified talent, many precious though imperfect 



THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO 

products of art. It is so with the components 
of the true character of Michelangelo. That 
strange interfusion of sweetness and strength is 
not to be found in those who claimed to be his 
followers ; but it is found in many of those who 
worked before him, and in many others down to 
our own time, in William Blake, for instance, 
and Victor Hugo, who, though not of his school, 
and unaware, are his true sons, and help us to 
understand him, as he in turn interprets and 
justifies them. Perhaps this is the chief use in 
studying old masters. 

1871. 



97 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

HOMO MINISTER ET INTERPRES NATURE 

IN Vasari's life of Leonardo da Vinci as we now 
read it there are some variations from the first 
edition. There, the painter who has fixed the 
outward type of Christ for succeeding centuries 
was a bold speculator, holding lightly by other 
men's beliefs, setting philosophy above Chris- 
tianity. Words of his, trenchant enough to 
justify this impression, are not recorded, and 
would have been out of keeping with a genius 
of which one characteristic is the tendency to 
lose itself in a refined and graceful mystery. 
The suspicion was but the time-honoured mode 
in which the world stamps its appreciation of one 
who has thoughts for himself alone, his high 
indifference, his intolerance of the common forms 
of things ; and in the second edition the image 
was changed into something fainter and more 
conventional. But it is still by a certain mystery 
in his work, and something enigmatical beyond 
the usual measure of great men, that he fascinates, 
or perhaps half repels. His life is one of sudden 
98 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

revolts, with intervals in which he works not at 
all, or apart from the main scope of his work. 
By a strange fortune the pictures on which his 
more popular fame rested disappeared early from 
the world, like the Battle of the Standard ; or are 
mixed obscurely with the product of meaner hands, 
like the Last Supper. His type of beauty is so 
exotic that it fascinates a larger number than it 
delights, and seems more than that of any other 
artist to reflect ideas and views and some scheme 
of the world within ; so that he seemed to his 
contemporaries to be the possessor of some un- 
sanctified and secret wisdom ; as to Michelet and 
others to have anticipated modern ideas. He 
trifles with his genius, and crowds all' his chief 
work into a few tormented years of later life ; 
yet he is so possessed by his genius that he passes 
unmoved through the most tragic events, over- 
whelming his country and friends, like one who 
comes across them by chance on some secret 
errand. 

His legend, as the French say, with the anec- 
dotes which every one remembers, is one of the 
most brilliant chapters of Vasari. Later writers 
merely copied it, until, in 1804, Carlo Amoretti 
applied to it a criticism which left hardly a date 
fixed, and not one of those anecdotes untouched. 
The various questions thus raised have since that 
time become, one after another, subjects of special 
study, and mere antiquarianism has in this direction 
little more to do. For others remain the editing of 

99 



THE RENAISSANCE 

the thirteen books of his manuscripts, and the 
separation by technical criticism of what in his 
reputed works is really his, from what is only 
half his, or the work of his pupils. But a lover 
of strange souls may still analyse for himself the 
impression made on him by those works, and try 
to reach through it a definition of the chief 
elements of Leonardo's genius. The legend^ as 
corrected and enlarged by its critics, may now 
and then intervene to support the results of this 
analysis. 

His life has three divisions thirty years at 
Florence, nearly twenty years at Milan, then 
nineteen years of wandering, till he sinks to rest 
under the protection of Francis the First at the 
Chateau de Clou. The dishonour of illegitimacy 
hangs over his birth. Piero Antonio, his father, 
was of a noble Florentine house, of Vinci in the 
Val d'Arno, and Leonardo, brought up delicately 
among the true children of that house, was the 
love-child of his youth, with the keen, puissant 
nature such children often have. We see him 
in his boyhood fascinating all men by his beauty, 
improvising music and songs, buying the caged 
birds and setting them frep, as he walked the 
streets of Florence, fond of odd bright dresses 
and spirited horses. 

From his earliest years he designed many 
objects, and constructed models in relief, of 
which Vasari mentions some of women smiling. 
His father, pondering over this promise in the 

100 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

child, took him to the workshop of Andrea del 
Verrocchio, then the most famous artist in 
Florence. Beautiful objects lay about there 
reliquaries, pyxes, silver images for the pope's 
chapel at Rome, strange fancy-work of the 
middle age, keeping odd company with fragments 
of antiquity, then but lately discovered. Another 
student Leonardo may have seen there a lad 
into whose soul the level light and aerial illusions 
of Italian sunsets had passed, in after days famous 
as Perugino. Verrocchio was an artist of the 
earlier Florentine type, carver, painter, and 
worker in metals, in one ; designer, not of 
pictures only, but of all things for sacred or 
household use, drinking-vessels, ambries, instru- 
ments of music, making them all fair to look 
upon, rilling the common ways of life with the 
reflexion of some far-off brightness ; and years 
of patience had refined his hand till his work 
was now sought after from distant places. 

It happened that Verrocchio was employed by 
the brethren of Vallombrosa to paint the Baptism 
of Christ, and Leonardo was allowed to finish an 
angel in the left-hand corner. It was one of 
those moments in which the progress of a great 
thing here, that of the art of Italy presses 
hard on the happiness of an individual, through 
whose discouragement and decrease, humanity, 
in more fortunate persons, comes a step nearer 
to its final success. 

For beneath the cheerful exterior of the mere 
tor 



THE RENAISSANCE 

well-paid craftsman, chasing brooches for the 
copes of Santa Maria Novella, or twisting metal 
screens for the tombs of the Medici, lay the 
ambitious desire to expand the destiny of 
Italian art by a larger knowledge and insight 
into things, a purpose in art not unlike Leonardo's 
still unconscious purpose ; and often, in the 
modelling of drapery, or of a lifted arm, or of 
hair cast back from the face, there came to him 
something of the freer manner and richer 
humanity of a later age. But in this Baptism 
the pupil had surpassed the master ; and Ver- 
rocchio turned away as one stunned, and as if 
his sweet earlier work must thereafter be dis- 
tasteful to him, from the bright animated angel 
of Leonardo's hand. 

The angel may still be seen in Florence, a 
space of sunlight in the cold, laboured old 
picture ; but the legend is true only in sentiment, 
for painting had always been the art by which 
Verrocchio set least store. And as in a sense he 
anticipates Leonardo, so to the last Leonardo 
recalls the studio of Verrocchio, in the love of 
beautiful toys, such as the vessel of water for 
a mirror, and lovely needle -work about the 
implicated hands in the Modesty and Vanity ', and 
of reliefs, like those cameos which in the Virgin 
of the Balances hang all round the girdle of Saint 
Michael, and of bright variegated stones, such as 
the agates in the Saint Anne, and in a hieratic 
preciseness and grace, as of a sanctuary swept and 

102 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

garnished. Amid all the cunning and intricacy of 
his Lombard manner this never left him. Much 
of it there must have been in that lost picture of 
Paradise^ which he prepared as a cartoon for 
tapestry, to be woven in the looms of Flanders. 
It was the perfection of the older Florentine 
style of miniature-painting, with patient putting 
of each leaf upon the trees and each flower in the 
grass, where the first man and woman were 
standing. 

And because it was the perfection of that 
style, it awoke in Leonardo some seed of dis- 
content which lay in the secret places of his 
nature. For the way to perfection is through a 
series of disgusts ; and this picture -all that he 
had done so far in his life at Florence was 
after all in the old slight manner. His art, if it 
was to be something in the world, must be 
weighted with more of the meaning of nature 
and purpose of humanity. Nature was "the 
true mistress of higher intelligences." He 
plunged, then, into the study of nature. And 
in doing this he followed the manner of the 
older students ; he brooded over the hidden 
virtues of plants and crystals, the lines traced by 
the stars as they moved in the sky, over the 
correspondences which exist between the different 
orders of living things, through which, to eyes 
opened, they interpret each other ; and for years 
he seemed to those about him as one listening to 
a voice, silent for other men. 

103 



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He learned here the art of going deep, of 
tracking the sources of expression to their subtlest 
retreats, the power of an intimate presence in the 
things he handled. He did not at once or 
entirely desert his art ; only he was no longer 
the cheerful, objective painter, through whose 
soul, as through clear glass, the bright figures of 
Florentine life, only made a little mellower and 
more pensive by the transit, passed on to the 
white wall. He wasted many days in curious 
tricks of design, seeming to lose himself in the 
spinning of intricate devices of line and colour. 
He was smitten with a love of the impossible 
the perforation of mountains, changing the 
course of rivers, raising great buildings, such as 
the church of San Giovanni^ in the air ; all those 
feats for the performance of which natural magic 
professed to have the key. Later writers, indeed, 
see in these efforts an anticipation of modern 
mechanics ; in him they were rather dreams, 
thrown off by the overwrought and labouring 
brain. Two ideas were especially confirmed in 
him, as reflexes of things that had touched his 
brain in childhood beyond the depth of other 
impressions the smiling of women and the 
motion of great waters. 

And in such studies some interfusion of the 
extremes of beauty and terror shaped itself, as an 
image that might be seen and touched, in the 
mind of this gracious youth, so fixed that for the 
rest of his life it never left him. As if catching 

104 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

glimpses of it in the strange eyes or hair of 
chance people, he would follow such about the 
streets of Florence till the sun went down, of 
whom many sketches of his remain. Some of 
these are full of a curious beauty, that remote 
beauty which may be apprehended only by 
those who have sought it carefully ; who, start- 
ing with acknowledged types of beauty, have 
refined as far upon these, as these refine upon 
the world of common forms. But mingled 
inextricably with this there is an element of 
mockery also ; so that, whether in sorrow or 
scorn, he caricatures Dante even. Legions of 
grotesques sweep under his hand ; for has not 
nature too her grotesques the rent rock, the 
distorting lights of evening on lonely roads, the 
unveiled structure of man in the embryo, or the 
skeleton ? 

All these swarming fancies unite in the 
Medusa of the Uffizii. Vasari's story of an 
earlier Medusa, painted on a wooden shield, is 
perhaps an invention ; and yet, properly told, 
has more of the air of truth about it than any- 
thing else in the whole legend. For its real 
subject is not the serious work of a man, but 
the experiment of a child. The lizards and 
glow-worms and other strange small creatures 
which haunt an Italian vineyard bring before 
one the whole picture of a child's life in a 
Tuscan dwelling half castle, half farm and 
are as true to nature as the pretended astonish- 

105 



THE RENAISSANCE 

ment of the father for whom the boy has 
prepared a surprise. It was not in play that 
he painted that other Medusa, the one great 
picture which he left behind him in Florence. 
The subject has been treated in various ways ; 
Leonardo alone cuts to its centre ; he alone 
realises it as the head of a corpse, exercising 
its powers through all the circumstances of 
death. What may be called the fascination 
of corruption penetrates in every touch its 
exquisitely finished beauty. About the dainty 
lines of the cheek the bat flits unheeded. 
The delicate snakes seem literally strangling 
each other in terrified struggle to escape from 
the Medusa brain. The hue which violent 
death always brings with it is in the features ; 
features singularly massive and grand, as we 
catch them inverted, in a dexterous foreshorten- 
ing, crown foremost, like a great calm stone 
against which the wave of serpents breaks. 

The science of that age was all divination, 
clairvoyance, unsubjected to our exact modern 
formulas, seeking in an instant of vision to con- 
centrate a thousand experiences. Later writers, 
thinking only of the well-ordered treatise on 
painting which a Frenchman, Raffaelle du 
Fresne, a hundred years afterwards, compiled 
from Leonardo's bewildered ijianuscripts, written 
strangely, as his manner was, from right to left, 
have imagined a rigid order in his inquiries. 
But this rigid order would have been little in 

106 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

accordance with the restlessness of his char- 
acter ; and if we think of him as the mere 
reasoner who subjects design to anatomy, and 
composition to mathematical rules, we shall 
hardly have that impression which those around 
Leonardo received from him. Poring over 
his crucibles, making experiments with colour, 
trying, by a strange variation of the alchemist's 
dream, to discover the secret, not of an 
elixir to make man's natural life immortal, 
but of giving immortality to the subtlest 
and most delicate effects of painting, he seemed 
to them rather the sorcerer or the magician, 
possessed of curious secrets and a hidden know- 
ledge, living in a world of which 'he alone 
possessed the key. What his philosophy seems 
to have been most like is that of Paracelsus or 
Cardan ; and much of the spirit of the older 
alchemy still hangs about it, with its confidence 
in short cuts and odd byways to knowledge. 
To him philosophy was to be something giving 
strange swiftness and double sight, divining the 
sources of springs beneath the earth or of expres- 
sion beneath the human countenance, clairvoyant 
of occult gifts in common or uncommon things, 
in the reed at the brook-side, or the star which 
draws near to us but once in a century. How, 
in this way, the clear purpose was overclouded, 
the fine chaser's hand perplexed, we but dimly 
see ; the mystery which at no point quite lifts 
from Leonardo's life is deepest here. But it is 

107 



THE RENAISSANCE 

certain that at one period of his life he had 
almost ceased to be an artist. 

The year 1483 the year of the birth of 
Raphael and the thirty-first of Leonardo's life 
is fixed as the date of his visit to Milan by 
the letter in which he recommends himself to 
Ludovico Sforza, and offers to tell him, for a 
price, strange secrets in the art of war. It was 
that Sforza who murdered his young nephew by 
slow poison, yet was so susceptible of religious 
impressions that he blended mere earthly passion 
with a sort of religious sentimentalism, and who 
took for his device the mulberry-tree symbol, 
in its long delay and sudden yielding of flowers 
and fruit together, of a wisdom which economises 
all forces for an opportunity of sudden and sure 
effect. The fame of Leonardo had gone before 
him, and he was to model a colossal statue of 
Francesco, the first Duke of Milan. As for 
Leonardo himself, he came not as an artist at all, 
or careful of the fame of one ; but as a player 
on the harp, a strange harp of silver of his own 
construction, shaped in some curious likeness to 
a horse's skull. The capricious spirit of Ludovico 
was susceptible also to the power of music, and 
Leonardo's nature had a kind of spell in it. 
Fascination is always the word descriptive of 
him. No portrait of his youth remains ; but 
all tends to make us believe that up to this time 
some charm of voice and aspect, strong enough 
to balance the disadvantage of his birth, had 

108 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

played about him. His physical strength was 
great ; it was said that he could bend a horse- 
shoe like a coil of lead. 

The Duomo, work of artists from beyond the 
Alps, so fantastic to the eye of a Florentine used 
to the mellow, unbroken surfaces of Giotto and 
Arnolfo, was then in all its freshness ; and 
below, in the streets of Milan, moved a people 
as fantastic, changeful, and dreamlike. To Leo- 
nardo least of all men could there be anything 
poisonous in the exotic flowers of sentiment 
which grew there. It was a life of brilliant 
sins and exquisite amusements : Leonardo became 
a celebrated designer of pageants ; and it suited 
the quality of his genius, composed, in almost 
equal parts, of curiosity and the desire of beauty, 
to take things as they came. 

Curiosity and the desire of beauty these are 
the two elementary forces in Leonardo's genius ; 
curiosity often in conflict with the desire of 
beauty, but generating, in union with it, a type 
of subtle and curious grace. 

The movement of the fifteenth century was 
twofold ; partly the Renaissance, partly also the 
coming of what is called the " modern spirit," 
with its realism, its appeal to experience. It 
comprehended a return to antiquity, and a return 
to nature. Raphael represents the return to 
antiquity, and Leonardo the return to nature. 
In this return to nature, he was seeking to satisfy 
a boundless curiosity by her perpetual surprises, 

109 



THE RENAISSANCE 

a microscopic sense of finish by her Jinesse, or 
delicacy of operation, that subtilitas naturae which 
Bacon notices. So we find him often in intimate 
relations with men of science, with Fra Luca 
Paccioli the mathematician, and the anatomist 
Marc Antonio della Torre. His observations 
and experiments fill thirteen volumes of manu- 
script ; and those who can judge describe him 
as anticipating long before, by rapid intuition, 
the later ideas of* science. He explained the 
obscure light of the unilluminated part of the 
moon, knew that the sea had once covered the 
mountains which contain shells, and of the gather- 
ing of the equatorial waters above tfie polar. 

He who thus penetrated into the most secret 
parts of nature preferred always the more to the 
less remote, what, seeming exceptional, was an 
instance of law more refined, the construction 
about things of a peculiar atmosphere and mixed 
lights. He paints flowers with such curious 
felicity that different writers have attributed to 
him a fondness for particular flowers, as Clement 
the cyclamen, and Rio the jasmin ; while, at 
Venice, there is a stray leaf from his portfolio 
dotted all over with studies of violets and the 
wild rose. In him first appears the taste for 
what is bizarre or recherche in landscape ; hollow 
places full of the green shadow of bituminous 
rocks, ridged reefs of trap-rock which cut the 
water into quaint sheets of light, their exact 
antitype is in our own western seas ; all the 

no 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

solemn effects of moving water. You may follow 
it springing from its distant source among the 
rocks on the heath of the Madonna of the Balances^ 
passing, as a little fall, into the treacherous calm 
of the Madonna of the Lake, as a goodly river 
next, below the cliffs of the Madonna of the Rocks, 
washing the white walls of its distant villages, 
stealing out in a network of divided streams in 
La Gioconda to the seashore of the Saint Anne 
that delicate place, where the wind passes like 
the hand of some fine etcher over the surface, 
and the untorn shells are lying thick upon the 
sand, and the tops of the rocks, to which the 
waves never rise, are green with grass, grown 
fine as hair. It is the landscape, not of dreams 
or of fancy, but of places far withdrawn, and 
hours selected from a thousand with a miracle 
of finesse. Through Leonardo's strange veil of 
sight things reach him so ; in no ordinary night 
or day, but as in faint light of eclipse, or in some 
brief interval of falling rain at daybreak, or 
through deep water. 

And not into nature only ; but he plunged 
also into human personality, and became above 
all a painter of portraits ; faces of a modelling 
more skilful than has been seen before or since, 
embodied with a reality which almost amounts 
to illusion, on the dark air. To take a character 
as it was, and delicately sound its stops, suited 
one so curious in observation, curious in inven- 
tion. He painted thus the portraits of Ludovico's 

in 



THE RENAISSANCE 

mistresses, Lucretia Crivelli and Cecilia Galerani 
the poetess, of Ludovico himself, and the Duchess 
Beatrice. The portrait of Cecilia Galerani is 
lost, but that of Lucretia Crivelli has been 
identified with La Belle Feroniere of the Louvre, 
and Ludovico's pale, anxious face still remains in 
the Ambrosian library. Opposite is the portrait 
of Beatrice d'Este, in whom Leonardo seems to 
have caught some presentiment of early death, 
painting her precise and grave, full of the 
refinement of the dead, in sad earth -coloured 
raiment, set with pale stones. 

Sometimes this curiosity came in conflict with 
the desire of beauty ; it tended to make him go 
too far below that outside of things in which art 
really begins and ends. This struggle between the 
reason and its ideas, and the senses, the desire of 
beauty, is the key to Leonardo's life at Milan 
his restlessness, his endless re-touchings, his odd 
experiments with colour. How much must he 
leave unfinished, how much recommence ! His 
problem was the transmutation of ideas into 
images. What he had attained so far had been 
the mastery of that earlier Florentine style, with 
its naive and limited sensuousness. Now he 
was to entertain in this narrow medium those 
divinations of a humanity to6 wide for it, that 
larger vision of the opening world, which is only 
not too much for the great, irregular art of 
Shakespeare ; and everywhere the effort is visible 
in the work of his hands. This agitation, this 

I 12 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

perpetual delay, give him an air of weariness 
and ennui. To others he seems to be aiming at 
an impossible effect, to do something that art, 
that painting, can never do. Often the expression 
of physical beauty at this or that point seems 
strained and marred in the effort, as in those 
heavy German foreheads too heavy and German 
for perfect beauty. 

For there was a touch of Germany in that 
genius which, as Goethe said, had "thought itself 
weary " mude sich gedacht. What an anticipa- 
tion of modern Germany, for instance, in that 
debate on the question whether sculpture or 
painting is the nobler art ! l But there is this 
difference between him and the German, that, 
with all that curious science, the German 
would have thought nothing more was needed. 
The name of Goethe himself reminds one how 
great for the artist may be the danger of over- 
much science ; how Goethe, who, in the Elective 
Affinities and the first part of Faust, does trans- 
mute ideas into images, who wrought many such 
transmutations, did not invariably find the spell- 
word, and in the second part of Faust presents us 
with a mass of science which has almost no 
artistic character at all. But Leonardo will neveF 
work till the happy moment comes that 
moment of bien-etre, which to imaginative men is 
a moment of invention. On this he waits 



1 How princely, how characteristic of Leonardo, the answer, 
Quanta piu, un* arte porta secofatica di corpo, tanto piu } vile ! 

I 113 



THE RENAISSANCE 

a perfect patience ; other moments are but a 
preparation, or after-taste of it. Few men 
distinguish between them as jealously as he. 
Hence so many flaws even in the choicest work. 
But for Leonardo the distinction is absolute, and, 
in the moment of bien-etre^ the alchemy com- 
plete : the idea is stricken into colour and 
! imagery : a cloudy mysticism is refined to a 
I subdued and graceful mystery, and painting 
pleases the eye while it satisfies the soul. 

This curious beauty is seen above all in his 
drawings, and in these chiefly in the abstract 
grace of the bounding lines. Let us take some 
of these drawings, and pause over them awhile ; 
and, first, one of those at Florence the heads of 
a woman and a little child, set side by side, but 
each in its own separate frame. First of all, 
there is much pathos in the reappearance, in the 
fuller curves of the face of the child, of the 
sharper, more chastened lines of the worn and 
older face, which leaves no doubt that the heads 
are those of a little child and its mother. A 
feeling for maternity is indeed always character- 
istic of Leonardo ; and this feeling is further 
indicated here by the half-humorous pathos of 
the diminutive, rounded shoulders of the child* 
You may note a like pathetic power in drawings 
of a young man, seated in a stooping posture, his 
face in his hands, as in sorrow ; of a slave sitting 
in an uneasy inclined attitude, in some brief 
interval of rest ; of a small Madonna and Child, 

114 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

peeping sideways in half-reassured terror, as a 
mighty griffin with batlike wings, one of 
Leonardo's finest inventions, descends suddenly 
from the air to snatch up a great wild beast 
wandering near them. But note in these, as that 
which especially belongs to art, the contour of 
the young man's hair, the poise of the slave's 
arm above his head, and the curves of the head 
of the child, following the little skull within, 
thin and fine as some sea-shell worn by the wind. 
Take again another head, still more full of 
sentiment, but of a different kind, a little draw- 
ing in red chalk which every one will remember 
who has examined at all carefully the drawings 
by old masters at the Louvre. It is a face of 
doubtful sex, set in the shadow of its own 
hair, the cheek-line in high light against it, 
with something voluptuous and full in the eye- 
lids and the lips. Another drawing might pass 
for the same face in childhood, with parched and 
feverish lips, but much sweetness in the loose, 
short-waisted childish dress, with necklace and 
bulla^ and in the daintily bound hair. We 
might take the thread of suggestion which these 
two drawings offer, when thus set side by side, 
and, following it through the drawings at 
Florence, Venice, and Milan, construct a sort of 
series, illustrating better than anything else 
Leonardo's type of womanly beauty. Daughters 
of Herodias, with their fantastic head-dresses 
knotted and folded so strangely to leave the 



THE RENAISSANCE 

dainty oval of the face disengaged, they are not 
of the Christian family, or of Raphael's. They 
are the clairvoyants, through whom, as through 
delicate instruments, one becomes aware of the 
subtler forces of nature, and the modes of their 
action, all that is magnetic in it, all those finer 
conditions wherein material things rise to that 
subtlety of operation which constitutes them 
spiritual, where only the final nerve and the 
keener touch can follow. It is as if in certain 
significant examples we actually saw those forces 
at their work on human flesh. Nervous, electric, 
faint always with some inexplicable faintness, 
these people seem to be subject to exceptional 
conditions, to feel powers at work in the common 
air unfelt by others, to become, as it were, the 
receptacle of them, and pass them on to us in a 
chain of secret influences. 

But among the more youthful heads there is 
one at Florence which Love chooses for its own 
the head of a young man, which may well be 
the likeness of Andrea Salaino, beloved of Leon- 
ardo for his curled and waving hair belli capelli 
ricci e inanellati and afterwards his favourite 
pupil and servant. Of all the interests in living 
men and women which may have filled his life 
at Milan, this attachment alone is recorded. And 
in return Salaino identified himself so entirely 
with Leonardo, that the picture of Saint Anne^ in 
the Louvre, has been attributed to him. It 
illustrates Leonardo's usual choice of pupils, men 

116 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

of some natural charm of person or intercourse 
like Salaino, or men of birth and princely habits 
of life like Francesco Melzi men with just 
enough genius to be capable of initiation into his 
secret, for the sake of which they were ready to 
efface their own individuality. Among them, 
retiring often to the villa of the Melzi at Canonica 
al Vaprio, he worked at his fugitive manuscripts 
and sketches, working for the present hour, and 
for a few only, perhaps chiefly for himself. 
Other artists have been as careless of present or 
future applause, in self-forgetfulness, or because 
they set moral or political ends above the ends of 
art ; but in him this solitary culture of beauty 
seems to have hung upon a kind of self-love, and 
a carelessness in the work of art of all but art 
itself. Out of the secret places of a unique 
temperament he brought strange blossoms and 
fruits hitherto unknown ; and for him, the novel 
impression conveyed, the exquisite effect woven, 
counted as an end in itself a perfect end. 

And these pupils of his acquired his manner 
so thoroughly, that though the number of Leon- 
ardo's authentic works is very small indeed, 
there is a multitude of other men's pictures 
through which we undoubtedly see him, and 
come very near to his genius. Sometimes, as in 
the little picture of the Madonna of the Balances^ 
in which, from the bosom of His mother, Christ 
weighs the pebbles of the brook against the sins 
of men, we have a hand, rough enough by 

117 



THE RENAISSANCE 

contrast, working upon some fine hint or sketch 
of his. Sometimes, as in the subjects of the 
'Daughter of Herodias and the Head of John the 
Baptist, the lost originals have been re-echoed 
and varied upon again and again by Luini and 
others. At other times the original remains, but 
has been a mere theme or motive, a type of 
which the accessories might be modified or 
changed ; and these variations have but brought 
out the more the purpose, or expression of the 
original. It is so with the so-called Saint John 
the Baptist of the Louvre one of the few naked 
figures Leonardo painted whose delicate brown 
flesh and woman's hair no one would go out 
into the wilderness to seek, and whose treacherous 
smile would have us understand something far 
beyond the outward gesture or circumstance. 
But the long, reedlike cross in the hand, which 
suggests Saint John the Baptist, becomes faint in 
a copy at the Ambrosian Library, and disappears 
altogether in another version, in the Palazzo Rosso 
at Genoa. Returning from the latter to the 
original, we are no longer surprised by Saint John's 
strange likeness to the Bacchus which hangs near 
it, and which set Theophile Gautier thinking of 
Heine's notion of decayed gods, who, to maintain 
themselves, after the fall of paganism, took 
employment in the new religion. We recognise 
one of those symbolical inventions in which the 
ostensible subject is used, not as matter for definite 
pictorial realisation, but as the starting-point of a 

118 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

train of sentiment, subtle and vague as a piece of 
music. No one ever ruled over the mere subject 
in hand more entirely than Leonardo, or bent it 
more dexterously to purely artistic ends. And so 
it comes to pass that though he handles sacred 
subjects continually, he is the most profane of 
painters ; the given person or subject, Saint John 
in the Desert, or the Virgin on the knees of Saint 
Anne, is often merely the pretext for a kind of 
work which carries one altogether beyond the 
range of its conventional associations. 

About the Last Supper^ its decay and restora- 
tions, a whole literature has risen up, Goethe's 
pensive sketch of its sad fortunes being perhaps 
the best. The death in childbirth of the Duchess 
Beatrice was followed in Ludovico by one of 
those paroxysms of religious feeling which in 
him were constitutional. The low, gloomy 
Dominican church of Saint Mary of the Graces 
had been the favourite oratory of Beatrice. She 
had spent her last days there, full of sinister 
presentiments ; at last it had been almost necessary 
to remove her from it by force ; and now it was 
here that mass was said a hundred times a day 
for her repose. On the damp wall of the re- 
fectory, oozing with mineral salts, Leonardo 
painted the Last Supper. Effective anecdotes were 
told about it, his retouchings and delays. They 
show him refusing to work except at the moment 
of invention, scornful of any one who supposed 
that art could be a work of mere industry and rule, 

119 



THE RENAISSANCE 

often coming the whole length of Milan to give 
a single touch. He painted it, not in fresco, 
where all must be impromptu^ but in oils, the new 
method which he had been one of the first to 
welcome, because it allowed of so many after- 
thoughts, so refined a working out of perfection. 
It turned out that on a plastered wall no process 
could have been less durable. Within fifty years 
it had fallen into decay. And now we have to 
turn back to Leonardo's own studies, above all to 
one drawing of the central head at the Brera, 
which, in a union of tenderness and severity in 
the face-lines, reminds one of the monumental 
work of Mino da Fiesole, to trace it as it 
was. 

Here was another effort to lift a given subject 
out of the range of its traditional associations. 
Strange, after all the mystic developments of 
the middle age, was the effort to see the 
Eucharist, not as the pale Host of the altar, but 
as one taking leave of his friends. Five years 
afterwards the young Raphael, at Florence, 
painted it with sweet and solemn effect in the 
refectory of Saint Onofrio ; but still with all 
the mystical unreality of the school of Perugino. 
Vasari pretends that the central head was never 
finished. But finished or unfinished, or owing 
part of its effect to a mellowing decay, the head 
of Jesus does but consummate the sentiment of 
the whole company ghosts through which 
you see the wall, faint as the shadows of the 

120 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

leaves upon the wall on autumn afternoons. 
This figure is but the faintest, the most spectral 
of them all. 

The Last Supper was finished in 1497 * n 
1498 the French entered Milan, and whether or 
not the Gascon bowmen used it as a mark for 
their arrows, the model of Francesco Sforza 
certainly did not survive. What, in that age, 
such work was capable of being of what 
nobility, amid what racy truthfulness to fact we 
may judge from the bronze statue of Bartolomeo 
Colleoni on horseback, modelled by Leonardo's 
master, Verrocchio (he died of grief, it was said, 
because, the mould accidentally failing, he was 
unable to complete it), still standing in the 
piazza of Saint John and Saint Paul at Venice. 
Some traces of the thing may remain in certain 
of Leonardo's drawings, and perhaps also, by a 
singular circumstance, in a far-off town of France. 
For Ludovico became a .prisoner, and ended his 
days at Loches in Touraine. After many years 
of captivity in the dungeons below, where 
all seems sick with barbarous feudal memories, 
he was allowed at last, it is said, to breathe 
fresher air for awhile in one of the rooms of 
the great tower still shown, its walls covered 
with strange painted arabesques, ascribed by 
tradition to his hand, amused a little, in this 
way, through the tedious years. In those 
vast helmets and human faces and pieces of 
armour, among which, in great letters, the 

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THE RENAISSANCE 

motto Infelix Sum is woven in and out, it is 
perhaps not too fanciful to see the fruit of a 
wistful after-dreaming over Leonardo's sundry 
experiments on the armed figure of the great 
duke, which had occupied the two so much 
during the days of their good fortune at 
Milan. 

The remaining years of Leonardo's life are 
more or less years of wandering. From his 
brilliant life at court he had saved nothing, and 
he returned to Florence a poor man. Perhaps 
necessity kept his spirit excited : the next four 
years are one prolonged rapture or ecstasy of in- 
vention. He painted now the pictures of the 
Louvre, his most authentic works, which came 
there straight from the cabinet of Francis the 
First, at Fontainebleau. One picture of his, 
the Saint Anne not the Saint Anne of the Louvre, 
but a simple cartoon, now in London revived 
for a moment a sort of appreciation more common 
in an earlier time, when good pictures had still 
seemed miraculous. For two days a crowd of 
people of all qualities passed in naive excitement 
through the chamber where it hung, and gave 
Leonardo a taste of the " triumph " of Cimabue. 
But his work was less with the saints than with 
the living women of Florence. For he lived 
still in the polished society that he loved, and in 
the houses of Florence, left perhaps a little 
subject to light thoughts by the death of 
Savonarola the latest gossip (1869) is of an 

122 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

undraped Monna Lisa, found in some out-of-the- 
way corner of the late Orleans collection he 
saw Ginevra di Benci, and Lisa, the young third 
wife of Francesco del Giocondo. As we have seen 
him using incidents of sacred story, not for their 
own sake, or as mere subjects for pictorial realisa- 
tion, but as a cryptic language for fancies all his 
own, so now he found a vent for his thought in 
taking one of these languid women, and raising 
her, as Leda or Pomona, as Modesty or Vanity, 
to the seventh heaven of symbolical expres- 
sion. 

La Gioconda is, in the truest sense, Leonardo's 
masterpiece, the revealing instance of his mode 
of thought and work. In suggestivehess, only 
the Melancholia of Diirer is comparable to it ; 
and no crude symbolism disturbs the effect of 
its subdued and graceful mystery. We all 
know the face and hands of the figure, set in 
its marble chair, in that circle of fantastic rocks, 
as in some faint light under sea. Perhaps of 
all ancient pictures time has chilled it least. 1 
As often happens with works in which invention 
seems to reach its limit, there is an element in 
it given to, not invented by, the master. In 
that inestimable folio of drawings, once in the 
possession of Vasari, were certain designs by 
Verrocchio, faces of such impressive beauty 
that Leonardo in his boyhood copied them 

1 Yet for Vasari there was some further magic of crimson in the 
lips and cheeks, lost for us. 

123. 



THE RENAISSANCE 

many times. It is hard not to connect with 
these designs of the elder, by-past master, as 
with its germinal principle, the"~unfathomable 
smile, always with a touch of something sinister 
in it, which plays over all Leonardo's work. 
Besides, the picture is a portrait. From child- 
hood we see this image defining itself on the 
fabric of his dreams ; and but for express 
historical testimony, we might fancy that this 
was but his ideal lady, embodied and beheld at 
last. What was the relationship of a living 
Florentine to this creature of his thought ? By 
what strange affinities had the dream and the 
person grown up thus apart, and yet so closely 
together f Present from the first incorporeally 
in Leonardo's brain, dimly traced in the designs 
of Verrocchio, she is found present at last in 11 
Giocondo's house. That there is much of mere 
portraiture in the picture is attested by the 
legend that by artificial means, the presence 
of mimes and flute-players, that subtle expres- 
sion was protracted on the face. Again, was 
it in four years and by renewed labour never 
really completed, or in four months and as 
by stroke of magic, that the image was pro- 
jected ? 

The presence that rose thus so strangely 
beside the waters, is expressive of what in the 
ways of a thousand years men had come to desire. 
Hers is the head upon which all " the ends of 
the world are come," and the eyelids are a little 

.124 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

weary. It is a beauty wrought out from within 
upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of 
strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and ex- 
quisite passions. Set it for a moment beside one 
of those white Greek goddesses or beautiful 
women of antiquity, and how would they be 
troubled by this beauty, into which thjejsoul with ^77- z 
all its maladies has passed ! All the thoughts jjjS/X 7 
arid experience of the world liave etched and 
moulded there, in that which they have of power 
to refine and make expressive the outward form, 
the animalism of Greece, the lust of Rome, the 
mysticism of the middle age with its spiritual 
ambition and imaginative loves, the return of j 

the Pagan world, the sins of the Borgias. She 20 ^ 
is older than the rocks among which she sits ; 
like the vampire, she has been dead many times, 
and learned the secrets of the grave : and has 33- /* 
been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen 
day about her ; and trafficked for strange webs 
with Eastern merchants \ and, as Leda, was the 
mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the 
mother of Mary ; and all this has been to her but 
as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the 
delicacy with which it has moulded the changing 
lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands. 
The fancy of a perpetual life, sweeping together 
ten thousand experiences, is an old one ; and 
modern philosophy has conceived the idea of 
humanity as wrought upon by, and summing 
up in itself, all modes of thought and life. Cer- 

125 



THE RENAISSANCE 

tainly Lady Lisa might stand as the embodi- 
ment of the old fancy, the symbol of the modern 
idea. 

During these years at Florence Leonardo's 
history is the history of his art ; for himself, he 
is lost in the bright cloud of it. The outward 
history begins again in 1502, with a wild journey 
through central Italy, which he makes as the 
chief engineer of Cassar Borgia. The biographer, 
putting together the stray jottings of his manu- 
scripts, may follow him through every day of 
it, up the strange tower of Siena, elastic like a 
bent bow, down to the seashore at Piombino, 
each place appearing as fitfully as in a fever 
dream. 

One other great work was left for him to do, 
a work all trace of which soon vanished, The 
Battle of the Standard^ in which he had Michel- 
angelo for his rival. The citizens of Florence, 
desiring to decorate the walls of the great 
council-chamber, had offered the work for com- 
petition, and any subject might be chosen from 
the Florentine wars of the fifteenth century. 
Michelangelo chose for his cartoon an incident 
of the war with Pisa, in which the Florentine 
soldiers, bathing in the Arno, are surprised by 
the sound of trumpets, and run to arms. His 
design has reached us only in an old engraving, 
which helps us less perhaps than our remem- 
brance of the background of his Holy Family in 
the Uffizii to imagine in what superhuman form, 

126 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

such as might have beguiled the heart of an 
earlier world, those figures ascended out of 
the water. Leonardo chose an incident from the 
battle of Anghiari, in which two parties of 
soldiers fight for a standard. Like Michel- 
angelo's, his cartoon is lost, and has come to 
us only in sketches, and in a fragment of 
Rubens. Through the accounts given we 
may discern some lust of terrible things in it, 
so that even the horses tore each other with 
their teeth. And yet one fragment of it, in 
a drawing of his at Florence, is far different 
a waving field of lovely armour, the chased 
edgings running like lines of sunlight from 
side to side. Michelangelo was twenty-seven 
years old ; Leonardo more than fifty ; and 
Raphael, then nineteen years of age, visiting 
Florence for the first time, came and watched 
them as they worked. 

We catch a glimpse of Leonardo again, at 
Rome in 1514, surrounded by his mirrors and 
vials and furnaces, making strange toys that 
seemed alive of wax and quicksilver. The 
hesitation which had haunted him all through 
life, and made him like one under a spell, was 
upon him now with double force. No one had 
ever carried political indifferentism farther ; it 
had always been his philosophy to " fly before 
the storm " ; he is for the Sforzas, or against 
them, as the tide of their fortune turns. Yet 
now, in the political society of Rome, he came 

127 ' 



THE RENAISSANCE 

to be suspected of secret French sympathies. 
It paralysed him to find himself among enemies ; 
and he turned wholly to France, which had 
long courted him. 

France was about to become an Italy more 
Italian than Italy itself. Francis the First, like 
Lewis the Twelfth before him, was attracted by 
thzjinesse of Leonardo's work ; La Gioconda was 
already in his cabinet, and he offered Leonardo 
the little Chateau de Clou^ with its vineyards and 
meadows, in the pleasant valley of the Masse, 
just outside the walls of the town of Amboise, 
where, especially in the hunting season, the court 
then frequently resided. A Monsieur Lyonard^ 
peinteur du Roy pour Amboyse so the letter of 
Francis the First is headed. It opens a prospect, 
one of the most interesting in the history of art, 
where, in a peculiarly blent atmosphere, Italian 
art dies away as a French exotic. 

Two questions remain, after much busy anti- 
quarianism, concerning Leonardo's death the 
question of the exact form of his religion, and the 
question whether Francis the First was present 
at the time. They are of about equally little 
importance in the estimate of Leonardo's genius. 
The directions in his will concerning the thirty 
masses and the great candles for the church of 
Saint Florentin are things of course, their real 
purpose being immediate and practical; and on no 
theory of religion could these hurried offices be of 
much consequence. We forget them in specu- 

128 



LEONARDO DA VINCI 

lating how one who had been always so desirous 
of beauty, but desired it always in such precise and 
definite forms, as hands or flowers or hair, looked 
forward now into the vague land, and experienced 
the last curiosity. 

j 

1869. 



129 



THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE 

IT is the mistake of much popular criticism to 
regard poetry, music, and painting all the 
various products of art as but translations into 
different languages of one and the same fixed 
quantity of imaginative thought, supplemented 
by certain technical qualities of colour, in paint- 
ing ; of sound, in music ; of rhythmical words, in 
poetry. In this way, the sensuous element in 
art, and with it almost everything in art that is 
essentially artistic, is made a matter of indiffer- 
ence ; and a clear apprehension of the opposite 
principle that the sensuous material of each art 
brings with it a special phase or quality of 
beauty, untranslatable into the forms of any 
other, an order of impressions distinct in kind 
is the beginning of all true aesthetic criticism. 
For, as art addresses not pure sense, still less the 
pure intellect, but the "imaginative reason" 
through the senses, there are differences of kind 
in aesthetic beauty, corresponding to the differ- 
ences in kind of the gifts of sense themselves. 
Each art, therefore, having its own peculiar and 
untranslatable sensuous charm, has its own 

130 



THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE 

special mode of reaching the imagination, its 
own special responsibilities to its material. One 
of the functions of aesthetic criticism is to define 
these limitations ; to estimate the degree in 
which a given work of art fulfils its responsi- 
bilities to its special material ; to note in a 
picture that true pictorial charm, which is 
neither a mere poetical thought or sentiment, 
on the one hand, nor a mere result of com- 
municable technical skill in colour or design, 
on the other ; to define in a poem that true 
poetical quality, which is neither descriptive nor 
meditative merely, but comes of an inventive 
handling of rhythmical language, the element 
of song in the .singing ; to note in music the 
musical charm, that essential music, which 
presents no words, no matter of sentiment or 
thought, separable from the special form in 
which it is conveyed to us. 

To such a philosophy of the variations of the 
beautiful, Lessing's analysis of the spheres of 
sculpture and poetry, in the Laocoon, was an im- 
portant contribution. But a true appreciation 
of these things is possible only in the light of a 
whole system of such art-casuistries. Now paint- 
ing is the art in the criticism of which this truth 
most needs enforcing, for it is in popular judg- 
ments on pictures that the false generalisation 
of all art into forms of poetry is most prevalent. 
To suppose that all is mere technical acquire- 
ment in delineation or touch, working through 



THE RENAISSANCE 

and addressing itself to the intelligence, on the 
one side, or a merely poetical, or what may be 
called literary interest, addressed also to the pure 
intelligence, on the other : this is the way of 
most spectators, and of many critics, who have 
never caught sight all the time of that true 
pictorial quality which lies between, unique 
pledge, as it is, of the possession of the pictorial 
gift, that inventive or creative handling of pure 
line and colour, which, as almost always in Dutch 
painting, as often also in the works of Titian 
or Veronese, is quite independent of anything 
definitely poetical in the subject it accompanies. 
It is the drawing the design projected from 
that peculiar pictorial temperament or con- 
stitution, in which, while it may possibly be 
ignorant of true anatomical proportions, all 
things whatever, all poetry, all ideas however 
abstract or obscure, float up as visible scene or 
image : it is the colouring that weaving of 
light, as of just perceptible gold threads, through 
the dress, the flesh, the atmosphere, in Titian's 
Lace-girl> that staining of the whole fabric of 
the thing with a new, delightful physical 
quality. This drawing, then the arabesque 
traced in the air by Tintoret's flying figures, by 
Titian's forest branches ; this colouring the 
magic conditions of light and hue in the atmo- 
sphere of Titian's Lace-girl^ or Rubens's Descent 
from the Cross : these essential pictorial qualities 
must first of all delight the sense, delight it as 

132 



THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE 

directly and sensuously as a fragment of Venetian 
glass ; and through this delight alone become the 
vehicle of whatever poetry or science may lie 
beyond them in the intention of the composer. 
In its primary aspect, a great picture has no 
more definite message for us than an accidental^ 
play of sunlight and shadow for a few moments 
on the wall or floor : is itself, in truth, a space 
of such fallen light, caught as the colours are 
in an Eastern carpet, but refined upon, and 
dealt with more subtly and exquisitely than 
by nature itself. And this primary and essential 
condition fulfilled, we may trace the coming of 
poetry into painting, by fine gradations upwards ; 
from Japanese fan-painting, for instance, where 
we get, first, only abstract colour; then, just a 
little interfused sense of the poetry of flowers ; 
then, sometimes, perfect flower- painting ; and 
so, onwards, until in Titian we have, as his 
poetry in the Ariadne^ so actually a touch of 
true childlike humour in the diminutive, quaint 
figure with its silk gown, which ascends the 
temple stairs, in his picture of the Presentation 
of the Virgin^ at Venice. 

But although each art has thus its own 
specific order of impressions, and an untranslat- 
able charm, while a just apprehension of the 
ultimate differences of the arts is the beginning 
of aesthetic criticism ; yet it is noticeable that, 
in its special mode of handling its given material, 
each art may be observed to pass into the 

133 



THE RENAISSANCE 

condition of some other art, by what German 
critics term an Anders-streben a partial alienation 
from its own limitations, through which the arts 
are able, not indeed to supply the place of each 
other, but reciprocally to lend each other new 

M*~, 1 J 

forces. 

Thus some of the most delightful music seems 
to be always approaching to figure, to pictorial 
definition. Architecture, again, though it has 
its own laws laws esoteric enough, as the true 
architect knows only too well yet sometimes 
aims at fulfilling the conditions of a picture, as 
in the Arena chapel ; or of sculpture, as in the 
flawless unity of Giotto's tower at Florence ; and 
often finds a true poetry, as in those strangely 
twisted staircases of the chateaux of the country 
of the Loire, as if it were intended that among 
their odd turnings the actors in a theatrical mode 
of life might pass each other unseen ; there being 
a poetry also of memory and of the mere effect of 
time, by which architecture often profits greatly. 
Thus, again, sculpture aspires out of the hard 
limitation of pure form towards colour, or its 
equivalent ; poetry also, in many ways, finding 
guidance from the other arts, the analogy between 
a Greek tragedy and a work of Greek sculpture, 
between a sonnet and a relief, of French poetry 
generally with the art of engraving, being more 
than mere figures of speech ; and all the arts in 
common aspiring towards the principle of music ; 
music being the typical, or ideally consummate 

134 



THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE 

art, the object of the great Anders-streben of all 
art, of all that is artistic, or partakes of artistic 
qualities. 

All art constantly aspires towards the condition of 
musk. For while in all other kinds of art it is 
possible to distinguish the matter from the form, 
and the understanding can always make this dis- 
tinction, yet it is the constant effort of art to 
obliterate it. That the mere matter of a poem, 
for instance, its subject, namely, its given incidents 
or situation that the mere matter of a picture, 
the actual circumstances of an event, the actual 
topography of a landscape should be nothing 
without the form, the spirit, of the handling, 
that this form, this mode of handling, should 
become an end in itself, should- -pfinetratejsy_ery 
gartjof the matter : this is what all art constantly 
strives after, and achieves in different degrees. 

This abstract language becomes clear enough, 
if we think of actual examples. In an actual 
landscape we see a long white road, lost suddenly 
on the hill-verge. That is the matter of one of 
the etchings of M. Alphonse Legros : only, in this 
etching, it is informed by an indwelling solemnity 
of expression, seen upon it or half-seen, within the 
limits of an exceptional moment, or caught from 
his own mood perhaps, but which he maintains 
as the very essence ot the thing, throughout his 
work. Sometimes a momentary tint of stormy 
light may invest a homely or too familiar scene 
with a character which might well have been 

135 



THE RENAISSANCE 

drawn from the deep places of the imagination. 
Then we might say that this particular effect of 
light, this sudden inweaving of gold thread 
through the texture of the haystack, and the 
poplars, and the grass, gives the scene artistic 
qualities, that it is like a picture. And such 
tricks of circumstance are commonest in land- 
scape which has little salient character of its 
own ; because, in such scenery, all the material 
details are so easily absorbed by that informing 
expression of passing light, and elevated, through- 
out their whole extent, to a new and delightful 
effect by it. And hence the superiority, for 
most conditions of the picturesque, of a river- 
side in France to a Swiss valley, because, on the 
French river-side, mere topography, the simple 
material, counts for so little, and, all being very 
pure, untouched, and tranquil in itself, mere 
light and shade have such easy work in modulat- 
ing it to one dominant tone. The Venetian 
landscape, on the other hand, has in its material 
conditions much which is hard, or harshly definite ; 
but the masters of the Venetian school have 
shown themselves little burdened by them. Of 
its Alpine background they retain certain ab- 
stracted elements only, of cool colour and tran- 
quillising line ; and they use its actual details, 
the brown windy turrets, the straw-coloured 
fields, the forest arabesques, but as the notes of 
a music which duly accompanies the presence 
of their men and women, presenting us with the 

136 



THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE 

spirit or essence only of a certain sort of land- 
scape a country of the pure reason or half- 
imaginative memory. 

Poetry, again, works with words addressed in 
the first instance to the pure intelligence ; and 
it deals, most often, with a definite subject or 
situation. Sometimes it may find a noble and 
quite legitimate function in the conveyance of 
moral or political aspiration, as often in the 
poetry of Victor Hugo. In such instances it is 
easy enough for the understanding to distinguish 
between the matter and the form, however much 
the matter, the subject, the element which is 
addressed to the mere intelligence, has been 
penetrated by the informing, artistic spirit. But 
the ideal types of poetry are those in which this 
distinction is reduced to its minimum; so that 
lyrical poetry, precisely because in it we are least 
able to detach the matter from the form, without 
a deduction of something from that matter itself, 
is, at least artistically, the highest and most 
complete form of poetry. And the very perfec- 
tion of such poetry often appears to depend, in 
part, on a certain suppression or vagueness of 
mere subject, so that the meaning reaches us 
through ways not distinctly traceable by the 
understanding, as in some of the most imagina- 
tive compositions of William Blake, and often in 
Shakespeare's songs, as pre-eminently in that song 
of Mariana's page in Measure for Measure ', in 
which the kindling force and poetry of the whole 

137 



THE RENAISSANCE 

play seems to pass for a moment into an actual 
strain of music. 

And this principle holds good of all things 
that partake in any degree of artistic qualities, 
of the furniture of our houses, and of dress, for 
instance, of life itself, of gesture and speech, and 
the details of daily intercourse ; these also, for 
the wise, being susceptible of a suavity and 
charm, caught from the way in which they are 
done, which gives them a worth in themselves. 
Herein, again, lies what is valuable and justly 
attractive, in what is called the fashion of a time, 
which elevates the trivialities of speech, and 
manner, and dress, into "ends in themselves," and 
gives them a mysterious grace and attractiveness 
in the doing of them. 

Art, then, is thus always striving to be inde- 
pendent of the mere intelligence, to become a 
matter of pure perception, to get rid of its 
responsibilities to its subject or material ; the 
ideal examples of poetry and painting being those 
in which the constituent elements of the com- 
position are so welded together, that the material 
or subject no longer strikes the intellect only ; 
nor the form, the eye or the ear only ; but form 
and matter, in their union or identity, present 
one single effect to the " imaginative reason," 
that complex faculty for which every thought 
and feeling is twin-born with its sensible ana- 
logue or symbol. 

It is the art of music which most completely 

138 



THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE 

realises this artistic ideal, this perfect identifica- 
tion of matter and form. In its consummate 
moments, the end is not distinct from the 
means, the form from the matter, the subject 
from the expression ; they inhere in and com- 
pletely saturate each other ; and to it, therefore, 
to the condition of its perfect moments, all the 
arts may be supposed constantly to tend and 
aspire. In music, then, rather than in poetry, 
is to be found the true type or measure of 
perfected art. Therefore, although each art has 
its incommunicable element, its untranslatable 
order of impressions, itsjinique mode of reaching 
the "imaginative reason," yet the arts may be 
represented as continually struggling ' after the 
law or principle of music, to a condition which 
music alone completely realises ; and one of the 
chief functions of aesthetic criticism, dealing with 
the products of art, new or old, is to estimate 
the degree in which each of those products 
approaches, in this sense, to musical law. 

By no school of painters have the necessary 
limitations of the art of painting been so un- 
erringly though instinctively apprehended, and 
the essence of what is pictorial in a picture so 
justly conceived, as by the school of Venice ; and 
the train of thought suggested in what has been 
now said is, perhaps, a not unfitting introduction 
to a few pages about Giorgione, who, though 
much has been taken by recent criticism from 



THE RENAISSANCE 

what was reputed to be his work, yet, more 
entirely than any other painter, sums up, in 
what we know of himself and his art, the spirit 
of the Venetian school. 

The beginnings of Venetian painting link 
themselves to the last, stiff, half- barbaric 
splendours of Byzantine decoration, and are but 
the introduction into the crust of marble and 
gold on the walls of the Duomo of Murano, or of 
Saint Mark's, of a little more of human expres^ 
sion. And throughout the course of its later 
development, always subordinate to architectural 
effect, the work of the Venetian school never 
escaped from the influence of its beginnings. 
Unassisted, and therefore unperplexed, by natural- 
ism, religious mysticism, philosophical theories, 
it had no Giotto, no Angelico, no Botticelli. 
Exempt from the stress of thought and sentiment, 
which taxed so severely the resources of the 
generations of Florentine artists, those earlier 
Venetian painters, down to Carpaccio and the 
Bellini, seem never for a moment to have been 
so much as tempted to lose sight of the scope 
of their art in its strictness, or to forget that 
painting must be before all things decorative, a 
thing for the eye, a space of colour on the wall, 
only more dexterously blent than the marking of 
its precious stone or the chance interchange of sun 
and shade upon it : this, to begin and end with ; 
whatever higher matter of thought, or poetry, 
or religious reverie might play its part therein, 

140 



THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE 

between. At last, with final mastery of all the 
technical secrets of his art, and with somewhat 
more than " a spark of the divine fire " to his 
share, comes Giorgione. He is the inventor of 
genre y of those easily movable pictures which 
serve neither for uses of devotion, nor of 
allegorical or historic teaching little groups of 
real men and women, amid congruous furniture 
or landscape morsels of actual life, conversation 
or music or play, but refined upon or idealised, 
till they come to seem like glimpses of life from 
afar. Those spaces of more cunningly blent 
colour, obediently filling their places, hitherto, in 
a mere architectural scheme, Giorgioqe detaches 
from the wall. He frames them by the hands 
of some skilful carver, so that people may move 
them readily and take with them where they go, 
as one might a poem in manuscript, or a muskal 
instrument, to be used, at will, as a means of 
self-education, stimulus or solace, coming like an 
animated presence, into one's cabinet, to enrich 
the air as with some choice aroma, and, like 
persons, live with us, for a day or a lifetime. Of 
all art such as this, art which has played so large 
a part in men's culture since that time, Giorgione 
is the initiator. Yet in him too that old Venetian 
clearness or justice, in the apprehension of the 
.essential limitations of the pictorial art, is still 
undisturbed. While he interfuses his painted 
work with a high-strung sort of poetry, caught 
directly from a singularly Vich and high-strung 

141 



THE RENAISSANCE 

sort of life, yet in his selection of subject, or 
phase of subject, in the subordination of mere 
subject to pictorial design, to the main purpose 
of a picture, he is typical of that aspiration 
of all the arts towards music, which I have 
endeavoured to explain, towards the perfect 
identification of matter and form. 

Born so near to Titian, though a little before 
him, that these two companion pupils of the 
aged Giovanni Bellini may almost be called 
contemporaries, Giorgione stands to Titian in 
something like the relationship of Sordello to 
Dante, in Browning's poem. Titian, when he 
leaves Bellini, becomes, in turn, the pupil of 
Giorgione. He lives in constant labour more than 
sixty years after Giorgione is in his grave ; and 
with such fruit, that hardly one of the greater 
towns of Europe is without some fragment of 
his work. But the slightly older man, with 
his so limited actual product (what remains to 
us of it seeming, when narrowly explained, to 
reduce itself to almost one picture, like Bordello's 
one fragment of lovely verse), yet expresses, in 
elementary motive and principle, that spirit 
itself the final acquisition of all the long en- 
deavours of Venetian art which Titian spreads 
over his whole life's activity. 

And, as we might expect, something fabulous 
and illusive has always mingled itself in the 
brilliancy of Giorgione's fame. The exact 
relationship to him of many works drawings, 

142 



THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE 

portraits, painted idylls often fascinating enough, 
which in various collections went by his name, 
was from the first uncertain. Still, six or eight 
famous pictures at Dresden, Florence and the 
Louvre, were with no doubt attributed to him, 
and in these, if anywhere, something of the 
splendour of the old Venetian humanity seemed 
to have been preserved. But of those six or 
eight famous pictures it is now known that 
only one is certainly from Giorgione's hand. 
The accomplished science of the subject has 
come at last, and, as in other instances, has not 
made the past more real for us, but assured us 
only that we possess less of it than we seemed to 
possess. Much of the work on which Giorgione's 
immediate fame depended, work done for in- 
stantaneous effect, in all probability passed away 
almost within his own age, like the frescoes on 
the fa9ade of the fondaco del Tedeschi at Venice, 
some crimson traces of which, however, still 
give a strange additional touch of splendour to 
the scene of the Rialto. And then there is a 
barrier or borderland, a period about the middle 
of the sixteenth century, in passing through 
which the tradition miscarries, and the true 
outlines of Giorgione's work and person are 
obscured. It became fashionable for wealthy 
lovers of art, with no critical standard of 
authenticity, to collect so - called works of 
Giorgione, and a multitude of imitations came 
into circulation. And now, in the " new 

U3 



THE RENAISSANCE 

Vasari," 1 the great traditional reputation, woven 
with so profuse demand on men's admiration, 
has been scrutinised thread by thread ; and what 
remains of the most vivid and stimulating of 
Venetian masters, a live flame, as it seemed, in 
those old shadowy times, has been reduced almost 
to a name by his most recent critics. 

Yet enough remains to explain why the legend 
grew up above the name, why the name attached 
itself, in many instances, to the bravest work of 
other men. The Concert in the Pitti Palace, in 
which a monk, with cowl and tonsure, touches 
the keys of a harpsichord, while a clerk, placed 
behind him, grasps the handle of the viol, and a 
third, with cap and plume, seems to wait upon 
the true interval for beginning to sing, is un- 
doubtedly Giorgione's. The outline of the lifted 
finger, the trace of the plume, the very threads 
of the fine linen, which fasten themselves on the 
memory, in the moment before they are lost 
altogether in that calm unearthly glow, the skill 
which has caught the waves of wandering sound, 
and fixed them for ever on the lips and hands 
these are indeed the master's own ; and the 
criticism which, while dismissing so much 
hitherto believed to be Giorgione's, has estab- 
lished the claims of this one picture, has left it 
among the most precious things in the world 
of art. 

It is noticeable that the " distinction " of this 

1 Crowe and Cavalcaselle : History of Painting in North Italy. 

144 



THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE 

Concert, its sustained evenness of perfection, alike 
in design, in execution, and in choice of personal 
type, becomes for the " new Vasari " the standard 
of Giorgione's genuine work. Finding here 
sufficient to explain his influence, and the true 
seal of mastery, its authors assign to Pellegrino 
da San Daniele the Holy Family in the Louvre, 
in consideration of certain points where it comes 
short of this standard. Such shortcoming, how- 
ever, will hardly diminish the spectator's enjoy- 
ment of a singular charm of liguid air, with 
which the whole picture seems instinct, filling 
the eyes and lips, the very garments, of its 
sacred personages, with some wind r searched 
brightness and energy ; of which fine air the 
blue peak, clearly defined in the distance, is, as 
it were, the visible pledge. Similarly, another 
favourite picture in the Louvre, the subject of a 
delightful sonnet by a poet * whose own painted 
work often comes to mind as one ponders over 
these precious things the Fete Champetre, is 
assigned to an imitator of Sebastian del Piombo ; 
and the Tempest, in the Academy at Venice, 
to Paris Bordone, or perhaps to " some advanced 
craftsman of the sixteenth century." From the 
gallery at Dresden, the Knight embracing a Lady> 
where the knight's broken gauntlets seem to 
mark some well-known pause in a story we 
would willingly hear the rest of, is conceded to 
" a Brescian hand," and Jacob meeting Rachel to 

1 Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 
L 145 



THE RENAISSANCE 

a pupil of Palma. And then, whatever their 
charm, we are called on to give up the Ordeal^ 
and the Finding of Moses with its jewel-like pools 
of water, perhaps to Bellini. 

Nor has the criticism, which thus so freely 
diminishes the number of his authentic works, 
added anything important to the well-known 
outline of the life and personality of the man : 
only, it has fixed one or two dates, one or two 
circumstances, a little more exactly. Giorgione 
was born before the year 1477, and spent his 
childhood at Castelfranco, where the last crags 
of the Venetian Alps break down romantically, 
with something of parklike grace, to the plain. 
A natural child of the family of the Barbarelli 
by a peasant-girl of Vedelago, he finds his way 
early into the circle of notable persons people 
of courtesy. He is initiated into those dif- 
ferences of personal type, manner, and even of 
dress, which are best understood there that 
" distinction " of the Concert of the Pitti Palace. 
Not far from his home lives Catherine of Cornara, 
formerly Queen of Cyprus ; and, up in the 
towers which still remain, Tuzio Costanzo, the 
famous condottiere a picturesque remnant of 
medieval manners, amid a civilisation rapidly 
changing. Giorgione paints their portraits ; and 
when Tuzio's son, Matteo, dies in early youth, 
adorns in his memory a chapel in the church of 
Castelfranco, painting on this occasion, perhaps, 
the altar-piece, foremost among his authentic 

146 



THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE 

works, still to be seen there, with the figure of 
the warrior-saint, Liberale, of which the original 
little study in oil, with the delicately gleaming, 
silver-grey armour, is one of the greater treasures 
of the National Gallery. In that figure, as in 
some other knightly personages attributed to him, 
people have supposed the likeness of the painter's 
own presumably gracious presence. Thither, at 
last, he is himself brought home from Venice, 
early dead, but celebrated. It happened, about his 
thirty-fourth year, that in one of those parties 
at which he entertained his friends with music, 
he met a certain lady of whom he became greatly 
enamoured, and " they rejoiced greatly," says 
Vasari, " the one and the other, in their loves." 
And two quite different legends concerning it 
agree in this, that it was through this lady he 
came by his death ; Ridolfi relating that, being 
robbed of her by one of his pupils, he died of 
grief at the double treason ; Vasari, that she 
being secretly stricken of the plague, and he 
making his visits to her as usual, Giorgione took 
the sickness from her mortally, along with her 
kisses, and so briefly departed. 

But, although the number of Giorgione's 
extant works has been thus limited by recent 
criticism, all is not done when the real and the 
traditional elements in what concerns him have 
been discriminated ; for, in what is connected 
with a great name, much that is not real is 
often very stimulating. For the aesthetic philo- 



THE RENAISSANCE 

sopher, therefore, over and above the real 
Giorgione and his authentic extant works, there 
remains the Giorgionesque also an influence, a 
spirit or type in art, active in men so different as 
those to whom many of his supposed works are 
really assignable. A veritable school, in fact, 
grew together out of all those fascinating works 
rightly or wrongly attributed to him ; out of 
many copies from, or variations on him, by un- 
known or uncertain workmen, whose drawings 
and designs were, for various reasons, prized as his ; 
out of the immediate impression he made upon 
his contemporaries, and with which he continued 
in men's minds ; out of many traditions of subject 
and treatment, which really descend from him 
to our own time, and by retracing which we fill 
out the original image. Giorgione thus be- 
comes a sort of impersonation of Venice itself, 
its projected reflex or ideal, all that was intense 
or desirable in it crystallising about the memory 
of this wonderful young man. 

And now, finally, let me illustrate some of 
the characteristics of this School of Giorgione, as 
we may call it, which, for most of us, notwith- 
standing all that negative criticism of the " new 
Vasari," will still identify itself with those famous 
pictures at Florence, at Dresden and Paris. A 
certain artistic ideal is there defined for us the 
conception of a peculiar aim and procedure in art, 
which we may understand as the Giorgionesque^ 

148 



THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE 

wherever we find it, whether in Venetian work 
generally, or in work of our own time. Of this 
the Concert, that undoubted work of Giorgione in 
the Pitti Palace, is the typical instance, and a 
pledge authenticating the connexion of the school, 
and the spirit of the school, with the master. v 
I have spoken of a certain interpenetration 
the matter or subject of a work of art with the 
form of it, a condition realised absolutely only in 
music, as the condition to which every form of 
art is perpetually aspiring. In the art of painting, 
the attainment of this ideal condition, this perfect 
interpenetration of the subject with the elements 
of colour and design, depends, of course, in great 
measure, on dexterous choice of that subject, or 
phase of subject ; and such choice is one of 
the secrets of Giorgione's school. * It is the 
school of genre, and employs itself mainly with 
" painted idylls/' but, in the production of this 
pictorial poetry, exercises a wonderful tact in the 
selecting of such matter as lends itself most 
readily and entirely to pictorial form, to complete 
expression by drawing and colour. For although 
its productions are painted poems, they belong 
to a sort of poetry which tells itself without an 
articulated story. The master is pre-eminent 
for the resolution, the ease and quickness, with 
which he reproduces instantaneous motion the 
lacing-on of armour, with the head bent back 
so stately the fainting lady the embrace, rapid 
as the kiss, caught with death itself from dying 

149 



THE RENAISSANCE 

lips some momentary conjunction of mirrors and 
polished armour and still water, by which all the 
sides of a solid image are exhibited at once, 
solving that casuistical question whether painting 
can present an object as completely as sculpture. 
The sudden act, the rapid transition of thought, 
the passing expression this he arrests with that 
vivacity which Vasari has attributed to him, il 
fuoco Giorgionesco, as he terms it. Now it is part 
of the ideality of the highest sort of dramatic 
poetry, that it presents us with a kind of pro- 
foundly significant and animated instants, a mere 
gesture, a look, a smile, perhaps some brief and 
wholly concrete moment into which, however, 
all the motives, all the interests and effects of a 
long history, have condensed themselves, and 
which seem to absorb past and future in an 
intense consciousness of the present. Such ideal 
instants the school of Giorgione selects, with its 
admirable tact, from that feverish, tumultuously 
coloured world of the old citizens of Venice 
exquisite pauses in time, in which, arrested thus, 
we seem to be spectators of all the fulness of 
existence, and which are like some consummate 
extract or quintessence of life. 

It is to the law or condition of music, as 
I said, that all art like this is really aspiring ; 
and, in the school of Giorgione, the perfect 
moments of music itself, the making or hearing 
of music, song or its accompaniment, are them- 
selves prominent as subjects. On that back- 
ISO 



THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE 

ground of the silence of Venice, so impressive to 
the modern visitor, the world of Italian music 
was then forming. In choice of subject, as 
in all besides, the Concert of the Pitti Palace is 
typical of everything that Giorgione, himself 
an admirable musician, touched with his influ- 
ence. In sketch or finished picture, in various 
collections, we may follow it through many 
intricate variations men fainting at music ; 
music at the pool-side while people fish, or 
mingled with the sound of the pitcher in the 
well, or heard across running water, or among 
the flocks ; the tuning of instruments ; people 
with intent faces, as if listening, like those 
described by Plato in an ingenious 'passage of 
the Republic^ to detect the smallest interval of 
musical sound, the smallest undulation in the air, 
or feeling for music in thought on a stringless 
instrument, ear and finger refining themselves 
infinitely, in the appetite for sweet sound ; a 
momentary touch of an instrument in the 
twilight, as one passes through some unfamiliar 
room, in a chance company. 

In these then, the favourite incidents of 
Giorgione's school, music or the musical intervals 
in our existence, life itself is conceived as a sort 
of listening listening to music, to the reading of 
Bandello's novels, to the sound of water, to time 
as it flies. Often such moments are really our 
moments of play, and we are surprised at the 
unexpected blessedness of what may seem our 



plkif i 

reiilly |ij 2 

ii jdusd .1 



:" i;! r : ay 

r,.Bp; 

:ll !i:":;::! ir '"i r:ii..:i <il ? tt t 

.tc,__..jii;L.._... r !!i|^::2; ; 
masques in which men avowedly do but play 
at real life, like children " dressing up," dis- 
guised in the strange old Italian dresses, parti- 
coloured, or fantastic with embroidery and furs, 
of which the master was so curious a designer, 
and which, above all the spotless white linen at 
wrist and throat, he painted so dexterously. 

But when people are happy in this thirsty 
land water will not be far off ; and in the school 
of Giorgione, the presence of water the well, 
or marble-rimmed pool, the drawing or pouring 
of water, as the woman pours it from a pitcher 
with her jewelled hand in the Fete Champetre, 
listening, perhaps, to the cool sound as it falls, 
blent with the music of the pipes is as char- 
acteristic, and almost as suggestive, as that of 
music itself. And the landscape feels, and is 
glad of it also a landscape full of clearness, of 
the effects of water, of fresh rain newly passed 
through the air, and collected into the grassy 
channels. The air, moreover, in the school of 
Giorgione, seems as vivid as the people whobreathe 

152 



THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE 

it, and literally empyrean, all impurities being 
burnt out of it, and no taint, no floating particle 
of anything but its own proper elements allowed 
to subsist within it. 

Its scenery is such as in England we call 
"park scenery," with some elusive refinement 
felt about the rustic buildings, the choice grass, 
the grouped trees, the undulations deftly econo- 
mised for graceful effect. Only, in Italy all 
natural things are as it were woven through 
and through with gold thread, even the cypress 
revealing it among the folds of its blackness. 
And it is with gold dust, or gold thread, that 
these Venetian painters seem to work, spinning 
its fine filaments, through the solemn human 
flesh, away into the white plastered walls of the 
thatched huts. The harsher details of the 
mountains recede to a harmonious distance, the 
one peak of rich blue above the horizon remaining 
but as the sensible warrant of that due coolness f* 
which is alFwe need ask here of the Alps, with 
their dark rains and streams. Yet what real, 
airy space, as the eye passes from level to level, 
through the long-drawn valley in which Jacob 
embraces Rachel among the flocks ! Nowhere 
is there a truer instance of that balance, that 
modulated unison of landscape and persons of 
the human image and its accessories already 
noticed as characteristic of the Venetian school, 
so that, in it, neither personage nor scenery is 
ever a mere pretext for the other. 

153 



THE RENAISSANCE 

Something like this seems to me to be the 
vraie write about Giorgione, if I may adopt a 
serviceable expression, by which the French 
recognise those more liberal and durable im- 
pressions which, in respect of any really con- 
siderable person or subject, anything that has 
at all intricately occupied men's attention, lie 
beyond, and must supplement, the narrower 
range of the strictly ascertained facts about it. 
In this, Giorgione is but an illustration of a 
valuable general caution we may abide by in 
all criticism. As regards Giorgione himself, we 
have indeed to take note of all those negations 
and exceptions, by which, at first sight, a " new 
Vasari " seems merely to have confused our 
apprehension of a delightful object, to have 
explained away in our inheritance from past 
time what seemed of high value there. Yet it 
is not with a full understanding even of those 
exceptions that one can leave off just at this 
point. Properly qualified, such exceptions are 
but a salt of genuineness in our knowledge ; 
and beyond all those strictly ascertained facts, 
we must take note of that indirect influence by 
which one like Giorgione, for instance, enlarges 
his permanent efficacy and really makes himself 
felt in our culture. In a just impression of 
that, is the essential truth, the vraie verife, con- 
cerning him. 

1877. 

154 



JOACHIM DU BELLAY 

IN the middle of the sixteenth century, when 
the spirit of the Renaissance was everywhere, 
and people had begun to look back with distaste 
on the works of the middle age, the old Gothic 
manner had still one chance more, in borrowing 
something from the rival which was about to 
supplant it. In this way there was produced, 
chiefly in France, a new and peculiar phase of 
taste with qualities and a charm of its own, 
blending the somewhat attenuated grace of Italian 
ornament with the general outlines of Northern 
design. It created the Chateau de Gaillon^ as 
you may still see it in the delicate engravings of 
Israel Silvestre a Gothic donjon veiled faintly 
by a surface of dainty Italian traceries Chenon- 
ceaux, Blois, Chambord, and the church of Brou. 
In painting, there came from Italy workmen 
like Maitre Roux and the masters of the school 
of Fontainebleau, to have their later Italian 
voluptuousness attempered by the naive and 
silvery qualities of the native style ; and it was 
characteristic of these painters that they were 
most successful in painting on glass, an art so 



THE RENAISSANCE 

essentially medieval. Taking it up where the 
middle age had left it, they found their whole 
work among the last subtleties of colour and 
line ; and keeping within trie true limits of 
their material, they got quite a new order of 
effects from it, and felt their way to refinements 
on colour never dreamed of by those older 
workmen, the glass-painters of Chartres or Le 
Mans. What is called the Renaissance in France 
is thus not so much the introduction of a wholly 
new taste ready-made from Italy, but rather the 
finest and subtlest phase of the middle age itself, 
its last fleeting splendour and temperate Saint 
Martin's summer. In poetry, the Gothic spirit 
in France had produced a thousand songs ; so 
in the Renaissance, French poetry too did but 
borrow something to blend with a native growth, 
and the poems of Ronsard, with their ingenuity, 
their delicately figured surfaces, their slightness, 
their fanciful combinations of rhyme, are the 
correlative of the traceries of the house of 
Jacques Coeur at Bourges, or the Maison de 
"Justice at Rouen. 

There was indeed something in the native 
French taste naturally akin to that Italian 
finesse. The characteristic of French work had 
always been a certain nicety, a remarkable 
^aintimess of hand, une nettett remarquable d* execu- 
tion. In the paintings of Fra^ois Clouet, for 
example, or rather of the Clouets for there was 
a whole family of them painters remarkable for 

156 



JOACHIM DU BELLAY 

their resistance to Italian influences, there is a 
silveriness of colour and a clearness of expression 
which distinguish them very definitely from 
their Flemish neighbours, H^rnling or the Van 
Eycks. And this nicety is not less characteristic 
of old French poetry. A light, aerial delicacy, 
a simple elegance une nettete remarquable 
(f execution : these are essential characteristics 
alike of Villon's poetry, and of the Hours of Anne 
of Brittany. They are characteristic too of a 
hundred French Gothic carvings and traceries. 
Alike in the old Gothic cathedrals, and in their 
counterpart, the old Gothic chansons de geste, the 
rough and ponderous mass becomes, as if by 
passing for a moment into happier conditions, or 
through a more gracious stratum of air, graceful 
and refined, like the carved ferneries on the 
granite church at Folgoat, or the lines which 
describe the fair priestly hands of Archbishop 
Turpin, in the song of Roland ; although 
below both alike there is a fund of mere Gothic 
strength, or heaviness. 1 

Now Villon's songs and Clouet's painting are 
like these. It is the higher touch making itself 
felt here and* there, betraying itself, like nobler 
blood in a lower stock, by a fine line or gesture 
or expression, the turn of a wrist, the tapering 
of a finger. In Ronsard's time that rougher 

1 The purely artistic aspects of this subject have been interpreted, 
in a work of great taste and learning, by Mrs. Mark Pattison : The 
Renaissance of Art in France, 

'57 



THE RENAISSANCE 

element seemed likely to predominate. No one 
can turn over the pages of Rabelais without 
feeling how much need there was of softening, of 
castigation. To effect this softening is the object 
of the revolution in poetry which is connected 
with Ronsard's name. Casting about for the 
means of thus refining upon and saving the 
character of French literature, he accepted that 
influx of Renaissance taste, which, leaving the 
buildings, the language, the art, the poetry of 
France, at bottom, what they were, old French 
Gothic still, gilds their surfaces with a strange, 
delightful, foreign aspect passing over all that 
Northern land, in itself neither deeper nor more 
permanent than a chance effect of light. He 
reinforces, he doubles the French Daintiness by 
Italian ^/Ktf?. Thereupon, nearly all the force 
and all the seriousness of French work disappear ; 
only the elegance, the aerial touch, the perfect 
manner remain. But this elegance, this manner, 
this daintiness of execution are consummate, and 
have an unmistakable aesthetic value. 

So the old French chanson^ which, like the old 
northern Gothic ornament, though it sometimes 
refined itself into a sort of weird elegance, was 
often, in its essence, something rude and formless, 
became in the hands of Ronsard a Pindaric ode. 
He gave it structure, a sustained system, strophe 
and antistrophe^ and taught it a changefulness 
and variety of metre which keep the curiosity 
always excited, so that the very aspect of it, as it 

158 



JOACHIM DD BELLAY 

lies written on the page, carries the eye lightly 
onwards, and of which this is a good instance : 



'il^ It. grace^ et le ris 

ffe Cypris^ 
Le flair et la douce haleine ; 
Avril^ le parfum des dieux^ 

Qui, des cieux, 
Sentent Fodeur de la plalne ; 

Cest toy^ court ois et gentil^ 

>ui y tfexil 
Retire ces passageres^ 
Ces arondelles qui vont y 

Et qui sont 
Du printemps les messageres. 

That is not by Ronsard, but by Remy Belleau, 
for Ronsard soon came to have a school. Six 
other poets threw in their lot with him in 
his literary revolution, this Remy Belleau, 
Antoine de Baif, Pontus de Tyard, Etienne 
Jodelle, Jean Daurat, and lastly Joachim du 
Bellay ; and with that strange love of emblems 
which is characteristic of the time, which covered 
all the works of Francis the First with the 
salamander, and all the works of Henry the 
Second with the double crescent, and all the 
works of Anne of Brittany with the knotted 
cord, they called themselves the Pleiad ; seven in 
all, although, as happens with the celestial Pleiad, 
if you scrutinise this constellation of poets more 
carefully you may find there a great number of 
minor stars. 

The first note of this literary revolution was 



THE RENAISSANCE 

struck by Joachim du Bellay in a little tract 
written at the early age of twenty-four, which 
coming to us through three centuries seems of 
yesterday, so full is it of those delicate critical 
distinctions which are sometimes supposed 
peculiar to modern writers. The piece has for 
its title La Defense et Illustration de la langue 
Franfoyse ; and its problem is how to illustrate 
or ennoble the French language, to give it lustre. 
We are accustomed to speak of the varied critical 
and creative movement of the fifteenth and 
sixteenth centuries as the Renaissance, and because 
we have a single name for it we may sometimes 
fancy that there was more unity in the thing 
itself than there really was. Even the Reforma- 
tion, that other great movement of the fifteenth 
and sixteenth centuries, had far less unity, far less 
of combined action, than is at first sight supposed ; 
and the Renaissance was infinitely less united, 
less conscious of combined action, than the 
Reformation. But if anywhere the Renaissance 
became conscious, as a German philosopher 
might say, if ever it was understood as a systematic 
movement by those who took part in it, it is in 
this little book of Joachim du Bellay's, which it 
is impossible to read without feeling the excite- 
ment, the animation, of change, of discovery. 
" It is a remarkable fact," says M. Sainte-Beuve, 
" and an inversion of what is true of other 
languages, that, in French, prose has always had 
the precedence over poetry." Du Bellay's prose 

1 60 



JOACHIM DU BELLAY 

is perfectly transparent, flexible, and chaste. In 
many ways it is a more characteristic example of 
the culture of the Pleiad than any of its verse ; 
and those who love the whole movement of which 
the Pleiad is a part, for a weird foreign grace in it, 
and may be looking about for a true specimen of 
it, cannot have a better than Joachim du Bellay 
and this little treatise of his. 

Du Bellay 's object is to adjust the existing 
French culture to the rediscovered classical 
culture ; and in discussing this problem, and 
developing the theories of the Pleiad, he has 
lighted upon many principles of permanent truth 
and applicability. There were some who despaired 
of the French language altogether, who thought 
it naturally incapable of the fulness and elegance 
of Greek and Latin celte elegance et copie qui est 
en la langue Greque et Romaine that science could 
be adequately discussed, and poetry nobly written, 
only in the dead languages. " Those who speak 
thus," says Du Bellay, " make me think of the 
relics which one may only see through a little 
pane of glass, and must not touch with one's /X 
hands. That is what these people do with all 
branches of culture, which they keep shut up 
in Greek and Latin books, not permitting one to 
see them otherwise, or transport them out of 
dead words into those which are alive, and wing 
their way daily through the mouths of men." 
" Languages," he says again, " are not born like 
plants and trees, some naturally feeble and sickly, 

M 161 



THE RENAISSANCE 

others healthy and strong and apter to bear the 
weight of men's conceptions, but all their virtue 
is generated in the world of choice and men's 
freewill concerning them. . Therefore, I cannot 
blame too strongly the rashness of some of our 
countrymen, who being anything rather than 
Greeks or Latins, depreciate and reject with more 
than stoical disdain everything written in French ; 
nor can I express my surprise at the odd opinion 
of some learned men who think that our vulgar 
tongue is wholly incapable of erudition and good 
literature." 

It was an age of translations. Du Bellay 
himself translated two books of the flLneid^ and 
other poetry, old and new, and there were some 
who thought that the translation of the classical 
literature was the true means of ennobling the 
French language : strangers are ever favourites 
with us nous favorisons toujours les etr angers. 
Du Bellay moderates their expectations. " I do 
not believe that one can learn the right use of 
them " he is speaking of figures and ornament 
in language " from translations, because it is 
impossible to reproduce them with the same 
grace with which the original author used them. 
For each language has I know not what peculi- 
arity of its own ; and if you force yourself to 
express the naturalness (le naif) of this in another 
language, observing the law of translation, 
not to expatiate beyond the limits of the 
author himself, your words will be constrained, 

162 



JOACHIM DU BELLAY 

cold and ungraceful." Then he fixes the test of 
all good translation : " To prove this, read me 
Demosthenes and Homer in Latin, Cicero and 
Virgil in French, and see whether they produce 
in you the same affections which you experience 
in reading those authors in the original." 

In this effort to ennoble the French language, 
to give it grace, number, perfection, and as 
painters do to their pictures, that last, so desirable, 
touch cette derniere main que nous desirons what 
Du Bellay is really pleading for is his mother- 
tongue, the language, that is, in which one will 
have the utmost degree of what is moving and 
passionate. He recognised of what force the 
music and dignity of languages are, how they 
enter into the inmost part of things ; and in plead- 
ing for the cultivation of the French language, 
he is pleading for no merely scholastic interest, 
but for freedom, impulse, reality, not in litera- 
ture only, but in daily communion of speech. 
After all, it was impossible to have this impulse 
in Greek and Latin, dead languages shut up in 
books as in reliquaries peris et mises en reli- 
quaires de livres. By aid of this starveling 
stock pauvre plante et verge tte of the French 
language, he must speak delicately, movingly, if 
he is ever to speak so at all : that, or none, 
must be for him the medium of what he calls, in 
one of his great phrases, le discours fatal des choses 
mondaines that discourse about affairs which 
decides men's fates. And it is his patriotism 

163 



THE RENAISSANCE 

not to despair of it ; he sees it already perfect in 
all elegance and beauty of words parfait en toute 
elegance et venuste de paroles. 

Du Bellay was born in the disastrous year 
1525, the year of the battle of Pavia, and the 
captivity of Francis the First. His parents 
died early, and to him, as the younger son, his 
mother's little estate, ce petit Lire, the beloved 
place of his birth, descended. He was brought 
up by a brother only a little older than himself; 
and left to themselves, the two boys passed their 
lives in day-dreams of military glory. Their 
education was neglected ; " The time of my 
youth," says Du Bellay, "was lost, like the flower 
which no shower waters, and no hand cultivates." 
He was just twenty years old when the elder 
brother died, leaving Joachim to be the guardian 
of his child. It was with regret, with a shrink- 
ing sense of incapacity, that he took upon him 
the burden of this responsibility. Hitherto he 
had looked forward to the profession of a soldier, 
hereditary in his family. But at this time a 
sickness attacked him which brought him cruel 
sufferings, and seemed likely to be mortal. It 
was then for the first time that he read the 
Greek and Latin poets. These studies came too 
late to make him what he so much desired to 
be, a trifler in Greek and Latin verse, like so 
many others of his time now forgotten ; instead, 
they made him a lover of his own homely native 
tongue, that poor starveling stock of the French 

164 



JOACHIM DU BELLAY 

language. It was through this fortunate short- 
coming in his education that he became national 
and modern ; and he learned afterwards to look 
back on that wild garden of his youth with only 
a half regret. A certain Cardinal du Bellay 
was the successful member of the family, a man 
often employed in high official business. To 
him the thoughts of Joachim turned when 
it became necessary to choose a profession, 
and in 1552 he accompanied the Cardinal to 
Rome. He remained there nearly five years, 
burdened with the weight of affairs, and 
languishing with home-sickness. Yet it was 
under these circumstances that his genius yielded 
its best fruits. From Rome, so full of pleasur- 
able sensation for men of an imaginative 
temperament such as his, with all the curiosities 
of the Renaissance still fresh in it, his thoughts 
went back painfully, longingly, to the country 
of the Loire, with its wide expanse of waving 
corn, its homely pointed roofs of grey slate, 
and its far-off scent of the sea. He reached 
home at last, but only to die there, quite 
suddenly, one wintry day, at the early age of 
thirty-five. 

Much of Du Bellay's poetry illustrates rather 
the age and school to which he belonged than 
his own temper and genius. As with the 
writings of Ronsard and the other poets of the 
Pleiad^ its interest depends not so much on the 
impress of individual genius upon it, as on the 

165 



THE RENAISSANCE 

circumstance that it was once poetry a la mode, 
that it is part of the manner of a time a time 
which made much of manner, and carried it to 
a high degree of perfection. It is one of the 
decorations of an age which threw a large part of 
its energy into the work of decoration. We feel 
a pensive pleasure in gazing on these faded adorn- 
ments, and observing how a group of actual men 
and women pleased themselves long ago. Ronsard's 
poems are a kind of epitome of his age. Of one side 
of that age, it is true, of the strenuous, the pro- 
gressive, the serious movement, which was then 
going on, there is little ; but of the catholic side, 
the losing side, the forlorn hope, hardly a figure 
is absent. The Queen of Scots, at whose desire 
Ronsard published his odes, reading him in her 
northern prison, felt that he was bringing back 
to her the true flavour of her early days in the 
court of Catherine at the Louvre, with its exotic 
Italian gaieties. Those who disliked that poetry, 
disliked it because they found that age itself 
distasteful. The poetry of Malherbe came, with 
its sustained style and weighty sentiment, but 
with nothing that set people singing ; and the 
lovers of such poetry saw in the poetry of the 
Pleiad only the latest trumpery of the middle 
age. But the time arrived when the school of 
Malherbe also had had its day ; and the Romanti- 
cists^ who in their eagerness for excitement, for 
strange music and imagery, went back to the 
works of the middle age, accepted the Pleiad too 

166 



JOACHIM DU BELLAY 

with the rest ; and in that new middle age which 
their genius has evoked, the poetry of the Pleiad 
has found its place. At first, with Malherbe, 
you may think it, like the architecture, the whole 
mode of life, the very dresses of that time, fan- 
tastic, faded, rococo. But if you look long enough 
to understand it, to conceive its sentiment, you 
will find that those wanton lines have a spirit 
guiding their caprices. For there is style there ; 
one temper has shaped the whole ; and every- 
thing that has style, that has been done as no 
other man or age could have done it, as it could 
never, for all our trying, be done again, has its 
true value and interest. Let us dwell upon it 
for a moment, and try to gather from it that 
special flower, ct fleur particular y which Ronsard 
himself tells us every garden has. 

It is poetry not for the people, but for a con- 
fined circle, for courtiers, great lords and erudite 
persons, people who desire to be humoured, to 
gratify a certain refined voluptuousness they 
have in them. Ronsard loves, or dreams that 
he loves, a rare and peculiar type of beauty, la 
petite pucelle Angevine, with golden hair and dark 
eyes. But he has the ambition not only of being 
a courtier and a lover, but a great scholar also ; 
he is anxious about orthography, about the 
letter e Grecque, the true spelling of Latin names 
in French writing, and the restoration of the 
letter / to its primitive liberty del ' / voyelle en sa 
premiere liberte. His poetry is full of quaint, 

167 



THE RENAISSANCE 

remote learning. He is just a little pedantic, 
true always to his own express judgment, that 
to be natural is not enough for one who in 
poetry desires to produce work worthy of im- 
mortality. And therewithal a certain number 
of Greek words, which charmed Ronsard and 
his circle by their gaiety and daintiness, and a 
certain air of foreign elegance about them, crept 
into the French language ; as there were other 
strange words which the poets of the Pleiad 
forged for themselves, and which had only an 
ephemeral existence. 

With this was united the desire to taste a 
more exquisite and various music than that of 
the older French verse, or of the classical poets. 
The music of the measured, scanned verse of 
Latin and Greek poetry is one thing ; the music 
of the rhymed, unscanned verse of Villon and 
the old French poets, la poesie chantee^ is another. 
To combine these two kinds of music in a 
new school of French poetry, to make verse 
which should scan and rhyme as well, to search 
out and harmonise the measure of every syllable, 
and unite it to the swift, flitting, swallow-like 
motion of rhyme, to penetrate their poetry with 
a double music this was the ambition of the 
Pleiad. They are insatiable of music; they 
cannot have enough of it ; they desire a music 
of greater compass perhaps than words can pos- 
sibly yield, to drain out the last drops of sweetness 
which a certain note or accent contains. 

168 



JOACHIM DU BELLAY 

It was Goudimel, the serious and protestant 
Goudimel, who set Ronsard's songs to music ; 
but except in this eagerness for music the poets 
of the Pleiad seem never quite in earnest. 
The old Greek and Roman mythology, which 
the great Italians had found a motive so weighty 
and severe, becomes with them a mere toy. 
That " Lord of terrible aspect," Amor, has 
become Love the boy, or the babe. They 
are full of fine railleries ; they delight in 
diminutives, ondelette^fontelette, doucelette, Gassan- 
drette. Their loves are only half real, a vain 
effort to prolong the imaginative loves of the 
middle age beyond their natural lifetime They 
write love-poems for hire. Like that party 
of people who tell the tales in Boccaccio's 
Decameron, they form a circle which in an age 
of great troubles, losses, anxieties, can amuse 
itself with art, poetry, intrigue. But they 
amuse themselves with wonderful elegance. 
And sometimes their gaiety becomes satiric, 
for, as they play, real passions insinuate them- 
selves, and at least the reality of death. Their 
dejection at the thought of leaving this fair 
abode of our common daylight le beau sejour 
du commun jour is expressed by them with 
almost wearisome reiteration. But with this 
sentiment too they are able to trifle. The 
imagery of death serves for delicate ornament, 
and they weave into the airy nothingness of 
their verses their trite reflections on the vanity 

169 



THE RENAISSANCE 

of life. Just so the grotesque details of the 
charnel-house nest themselves, together with 
birds and flowers and the fancies of the pagan 
mythology, in the traceries of the architecture 
of that time, which wantons in its graceful 
arabesques with the images of old age and 
death. 

Ronsard became deaf at sixteen ; and it was 
this circumstance which finally determined him 
to be a man of letters instead of a diplomatist, 
significantly, one might fancy, of a certain pre- 
mature agedness, and of the tranquil, temperate 
sweetness appropriate to that, in the school of 
poetry which he founded. Its charm is that of 
a thing not vigorous or original, but full of the 
grace which comes of long study and reiterated 
refinements, and many steps repeated, and many 
angles worn down, with an exquisite faintness, 
une fadeur exquise, a certain tenuity and caducity, 
as for those who can bear nothing vehement or 
strong ; for princes weary of love, like Francis 
the First, or of pleasure, like Henry the Third, 
or of action, like Henry the Fourth. Its merits 
are those of the old, grace and finish, perfect 
in minute detail. For these people are a little 
jaded, and have a constant desire for a subdued 
and delicate excitement, to warm their creeping 
fancy a little. They love a constant change of 
rhyme in poetry, and in their houses that strange, 
fantastic interweaving of thin, reed -like lines, 
which are a kind of rhetoric in architecture. 

170 



JOACHIM DU BELLAY 

But the poetry of the Pleiad is true not only 
to the physiognomy of its age, but also to its 
country ce pays du Vendomois the names and 
scenery of which so often recur in it : the great 
Loire, with its long spaces of white sand ; the 
little river Loir ; the heathy, upland country, 
with its scattered pools of water and waste road- 
sides, and retired manors, with their crazy old 
feudal defences half fallen into decay ; La Eeauce^ 
where the vast rolling fields seem to anticipate 
the great western sea itself. It is full of the 
traits of that country. We see Du Bellay and 
Ronsard gardening, or hunting with their dogs, 
or watch the pastimes of a rainy day ; and with 
all this is connected a domesticity, a homeliness 
and simple goodness, by which the Northern 
country gains upon the South. They have the 
love of the aged for warmth, and understand 
the poetry of winter ; for they are not far 
from the Atlantic, and the west wind which 
comes up from it, turning the poplars white, 
spares not this new Italy in France. So the 
fireside often appears, with the pleasures of 
the frosty season, about the vast emblazoned 
chimneys of the time, and with a bonhomie as of 
little children, or old people. 

It is in Du Bellay's Olive, a collection of 
sonnets in praise of a half-imaginary lady, Sonnetz 
a la louange a" Olive, that these characteristics are 
most abundant. Here is a perfectly crystallised 
example : 

171 



THE RENAISSANCE 

D 'amour, de grace, et de haulte valeur 

Les feux divins estolent ceinctz et Us cieulx 
S'estoient vestuz d'un manteau precieux 
A raiz ardens de diverse couleur : 

Tout estoit plein de beaute, de bonheur, 
La mer tranquille, et le vent gracieulx, 
^uand celle la nasqult en ces bas lleux 
hii a pillc du monde tout Vhonneur. 

EW prist son teint des beux lyz blanchissans, 
Son chef de Tor, ses deux levres des rozes y 
Et du so lei! ses yeux resplandissans : 

Le del usant de liber alite, 

Mist en T esprit ses sentences encloses, 
Son nom des Dieux prist Vimmortalitt. 

That he is thus a characteristic specimen of 
the poetical taste of that age, is indeed Du 
Bellay's chief interest. But if his work is to 
have the highest sort of interest, if it is to do 
something more than satisfy curiosity, if it is 
to have an aesthetic as distinct from an historical 
value, it is not enough for a poet to have been 
the true child of his age, to have conformed to 
its aesthetic conditions, and by so conforming to 
have charmed and stimulated that age ; it is 
necessary that there should be perceptible in his 
work something individual, inventive, unique, 
the impress there of the writer's own temper 
and personality. This impress M. Sainte-Beuve 
thought he found in the Antiquites de Rome, and 
the Regrefs, which he ranks as what has been 
called poesie intime, that intensely modern sort of 
poetry in which the writer has for his aim the 
portraiture of his own most intimate moods, and 

172 



JOACHIM DU BELLAY 

to take the reader into his confidence. That 
age had other instances of this intimacy of 
sentiment : Montaigne's Essays are full of it, 
the carvings of the church of Brou are full of it. 
M. Sainte-Beuve has perhaps exaggerated the 
influence of this quality in Du Bellay's Regrets ; 
but the very name of the book has a touch of 
Rousseau about it, and reminds one of a whole 
generation of self-pitying poets in modern times. 
It was in the atmosphere of Rome, to him so 
strange and mournful, that these pale flowers 
grew up. For that journey to Italy, which he 
deplored as the greatest misfortune of his life, 
put him in full possession of his talent, and 
brought out all its originality. And in effect 
you do find intimacy, intimite^ here. The trouble 
of his life is analysed, and the sentiment of it 
conveyed directly to our minds ; not a great 
sorrow or passion, but only the sense of loss in 
passing days, the ennui of a dreamer who must 
plunge into the world's affairs, the opposition 
between actual life and the ideal, a longing for 
rest, nostalgia, home-sickness that pre-eminently 
childish, but so suggestive sorrow, as significant 
of the final regret of all human creatures for the 
familiar earth and limited sky. 

The feeling for landscape is often described as 
a modern one ; still more so is that for antiquity, 
the sentiment of ruins. Du Bellay has this senti- 
ment. The duration of the hard, sharp outlines 
of things is a grief to him, and passing his weari- 

173 



THE RENAISSANCE 

some days among the ruins of ancient Rome, he is 
consoled by the thought that all must one day 
end, by the sentiment of the grandeur of nothing- 
ness la grandeur du rien. With a strange touch 
of far-off mysticism, he thinks that the great 
whole le grand tout into which all other things 
pass and lose themselves, ought itself sometime^ 
to perish and pass away. Nothing less can 
relieve his weariness. From the stately aspects 
of Rome his thoughts went back continually to 
France, to the smoking chimneys of his little 
village, the longer twilight of the North, the 
soft climate of Anjou la douceur Angevine ; yet 
not so much to the real France, we may be sure, 
with its dark streets and roofs of rough-hewn 
slate, as to that other country, with slenderer 
towers, and more winding rivers, and trees like 
flowers, and with softer sunshine on more 
gracefully-proportioned fields and ways, which 
the fancy of the exile, and the pilgrim, and of 
the schoolboy far from home, and of those kept 
at home unwillingly, everywhere builds up 
before or behind them. 

He came home at last, through the Orisons, 
by slow journeys ; and there, in the cooler air of 
his own country, under its skies of milkier blue, 
the sweetest flower of his genius sprang up. 
There have been poets whose whole fame has 
rested on one poem, as Gray's on the Elegy in 
a Country Churchyard^ or Ronsard's, as many 
critics have thought, on the eighteen lines of 



JOACHIM DU BELLAY 

one famous ode. Du Bellay has almost been 
the poet of one poem ; and this one poem of 
his is an Italian product transplanted into that 
green country of Anjou ; out of the Latin verses 
of Andrea Navagero, into French. But it is a 
composition in which the matter is almost 
nothing, and the form almost everything ; and 
the form of the poem as it stands, written in old 
French, is all Du Bellay 's own. It is a song 
which the winnowers are supposed to sing as 
they winnow the corn, and they invoke the 
winds to lie lightly on the grain. 



D'UN 7ANNEUR DE BLE AUX PENTS* 

A vous trouppe legere 
)ui cTaile passagere 
Par le monde volez^ 
Et tTun sifflant murmurs 
Uombrageuse verdure 
Doulcement tsbranlez. 



foffre ces violettes, 

Ces Us & ces fleurettes^ 
Et ces roses icy y 
Ces vermelllettes roses 
Sont freschement tcloses^ 
Et ces azlliets aussl. 

*A graceful translation of this and some other poems of the 
Pleiad may be found in Ballads and Lyrics of 014 France, by 
Mr. Andrew Lang. 

175 



THE RENAISSANCE 

De vostre doulce halelne 
Eventez ceste plaint 
Eventez ce sejour ; 
Ce pendant que fahanne 
A mon bib que je vanne 
A la chaleur du jour. 

That has, in the highest degree, the qualities, 
the value, of the whole Pleiad school of poetry, 
of the whole phase of taste from which that 
school derives a certain silvery grace of fancy, 
nearly all the pleasure of which is in the surprise 
at the happy and dexterous way in which a thing 
slight in itself is handled. The sweetness of it 
is by no means to be got at by crushing, as you 
crush wild herbs to get at their perfume. One 
seems to hear the measured motion of the fans, 
with a child's pleasure on coming across the 
incident for the first time, in one of those great 
barns of Du Bellay's own country, La Eeauce^ 
the granary of France. A sudden light trans- 
figures some trivial thing, a weather-vane, a wind- 
mill, a winnowing fan, the dust in the barn door. 
A moment and the thing has vanished, because 
it was pure effect ; but it leaves a relish behind it, 
a longing that the accident may happen again. 

1872. 



r/b 



WINCKELMANN 

ET EGO IN ARCADIA FUI 

GOETHE'S fragments of art -criticism contain a 
few pages of strange pregnancy on the character 
of Winckelmann. He speaks of the teacher who 
had made his career possible, but whom he had 
never seen, as of an abstract type of culture, 
consummate, tranquil, withdrawn already into 
the region of ideals, yet retaining colour from 
the incidents of a passionate intellectual life. 
He classes him with certain works of art, 
possessing an inexhaustible gift of suggestion, 
to which criticism may return again and again 
with renewed freshness. Hegel, in his lectures 
on the Philosophy of Art^ estimating the work of 
his predecessors, has also passed a remarkable judg- 
ment on Winckelmann's writings : " Winckel- 
mann, by contemplation of the ideal works of the 
ancients, received a sort of inspiration, through 
which he opened a new sense for the study of 
art. He is to be regarded as one of those who, 
in the sphere of art, have known how to initiate 
a new organ for the human spirit." That it has 
N 177 



THE RENAISSANCE 

given a new sense, that it has laid open a new 
organ, is the highest that can be said of any 
critical effort. It is interesting then to ask what 
kind of man it was who thus laid open a new 
organ. Under what conditions was that effected ? 
Johann Joachim Winckelmann was born at 
Stendal, in Brandenburg, in the year 1717. The 
child of a poor tradesman, he passed through 
many struggles in early youth, the memory of 
which ever remained in him as a fitful cause of 
dejection. In 1763, in the full emancipation of 
his spirit, looking over the beautiful Roman 
prospect, he writes " One gets spoiled here ; 
but God owed me this ; in my youth I suffered 
too much." Destined to assert and interpret the 
charm of the Hellenic spirit, he served first a 
painful apprenticeship in the tarnished intellectual 
world of Germany in the earlier half of the 
eighteenth century. Passing out of that into the 
happy light of the antique, he had a sense of 
exhilaration almost physical. We find him as a 
child in the dusky precincts of a German school, 
hungrily feeding on a few colourless books. The 
master of this school grows blind ; Winckelmann 
becomes his famulus. The old man would have 
had him study theology. Winckelmann, free of 
the master's library, chooses rather to become 
familiar with the Greek classics. Herodotus and 
Homer win, with their " vowelled " Greek, his 
warmest enthusiasm ; whole nights of fever are 
devoted to them ; disturbing dreams of an 

178 



WINCKELMANN 

Odyssey of his own come to him. u He felt in 
himself," says Madame de Stael, " an ardent 
attraction towards the south. In German 
imaginations even now traces are often to be 
found of that love of the sun, that weariness of 
the North (cette fatigue du nord), which carried 
the northern peoples away into the countries 
of the South. A fine sky brings to birth senti- 
ments not unlike the love of one's Fatherland." 

To most of us, after all our steps towards it, 
the antique world, in spite of its intense outlines, 
its own perfect self-expression, still remains faint 
and remote. To him, closely limited except on 
the side of the ideal, building for his dark poverty 
" a house not made with hands," it early came 
to seem more real than the present. In the 
fantastic plans of foreign travel continually 
passing through his mind, to Egypt, for instance, 
and to France, there seems always to be rather a 
wistful sense of something lost to be regained, 
than the desire of discovering anything new. 
Goethe has told us how, in his eagerness actually 
to handle the antique, he became interested in 
the insignificant vestiges of it which the neigh- 
bourhood of Strasburg afforded. So we hear 
of Winckelmann's boyish antiquarian wanderings 
among the ugly Brandenburg sandhills. Such 
a conformity between himself and Winckel- 
mann, Goethe would have gladly noted. 

At twenty -one he enters the University of 
Halle, to study theology, as his friends desire ; 

179 



THE RENAISSANCE 

instead, he becomes the enthusiastic translator of 
Herodotus. The condition of Greek learning 
in German schools and universities had fallen, 
and there were no professors at Halle who could 
satisfy his sharp, intellectual craving. Of his 
professional education he always speaks with 
scorn, claiming to have been his own teacher 
from first to last. His appointed teachers did 
not perceive that a new source of culture was 
within their hands. Homo vagus et inconstant ! 
one of them pedantically reports of the future 
pilgrim to Rome, unaware on which side his 
irony was whetted. When professional education 
confers nothing but irritation on a Schiller, no 
one ought to be surprised ; for Schiller, and such 
as he, are primarily spiritual adventurers. But 
that Winckelmann, the votary of the gravest of 
intellectual traditions, should get nothing but an 
attempt at suppression from the professional 
guardians of learning, is what may well surprise 
us. 

In 1743 he became master of a school at 
Seehausen. This was the most wearisome period 
of his life. Notwithstanding a success in dealing 
with children, which seems to testify to something 
simple and primeval in his nature, he found the 
work of teaching very depressing. Engaged in 
this work, he writes that he still has within him 
a longing desire to attain to the knowledge of 
beauty sehnlich ivunschte zur Kenntniss des Schonen 
zu gelangen. He had to shorten his nights, 

1 80 



WINCKELMANN 

sleeping only four hours, to gain time for reading. 
And here Winckelmann made a step forward 
in culture. He multiplied his intellectual force 
by detaching from it all flaccid interests. He 
renounced mathematics and law, in which his 
reading had been considerable, all but the 
literature of the arts. Nothing was to enter into 
his life unpenetrated by its central enthusiasm. 
At this time he undergoes the charm of Voltaire. 
Voltaire belongs to that flimsier, more artificial, 
classical tradition, which Winckelmann was one 
day to supplant, by the clear ring, the eternal 
outline, of the genuine antique. But it proves 
the authority of such a gift as Voltaire's that it 
allures and wins even those born to supplant it. 
Voltaire's impression on Winckelmann was never 
effaced ; and it gave him a consideration for 
French literature which contrasts with his 
contempt for the literary products of Germany. 
German literature transformed, siderealised, as 
we see it in Goethe, reckons Winckelmann 
among its initiators. But Germany at that 
time presented nothing in which he could 
have anticipated Iphigenie^ and the formation of 
an effective classical tradition in German 
literature. 

Under this purely literary influence, 
Winckelmann protests against Christian Wolff 
and the philosophers. Goethe, in speaking of 
this protest, alludes to his own obligations to 
Emmanuel Kant. Kant's influence over the 

181 



THE RENAISSANCE 

culture of Goethe, which he tells us could not 
have been resisted by him without loss, consisted 
in a severe limitation to the concrete. But he adds, 
that in born antiquaries, like Winckelmann, a 
constant handling of the antique, with its eternal 
outline, maintains that limitation as effectually 
as a critical philosophy. Plato, however, saved 
so often for his redeeming literary manner, is 
excepted from Winckelmann's proscription of 
the philosophers. The modern student most 
often meets Plato on that side which seems to 
pass beyond Plato into a world no longer pagan, 
based upon the conception of a spiritual life. But 
the element of affinity which he presents to 
Winckelmann is that which is wholly Greek, 
and alien from the Christian world, represented 
by that group of brilliant youths in the Lysis, 
still uninfected by any spiritual sickness, finding 
the end of all endeavour in the aspects of the 
human form, the continual stir and motion of a 
jcomely human life. 

This new-found interest in Plato's dialogues 
could not fail to increase his desire to visit the 
countries of the classical tradition. " It is my 
misfortune," he writes, " that I was not born to 
great place, wherein I might have had cultivation, 
and the opportunity of following my instinct and 
forming myself." A visit to Rome probably 
was already designed, and he silently preparing 
for it. Count Biinau, the author of a historical 
work then of note, had collected at Nothenitz a 

182 



WINCKELMANN 

valuable library, now part of the library of 
Dresden. In 1748 Winckelmann wrote to 
Biinau in halting French : He is emboldened, 
he says, by Bunau's indulgence for needy men 
of letters. He desires only to devote himself to 
study, having never allowed himself to be dazzled 
by favourable prospects in the Church. He hints 
at his doubtful position " in a metaphysical age, 
by which humane literature is trampled under 
foot. At present," he goes on, "little value is 
set on Greek literature, to which I have devoted 
myself so far as I could penetrate, when good 
books are so scarce and expensive." Finally, he 
desires a place in some corner of Bunau's library. 
" Perhaps, at some future time, I shall become 
more useful to the public, if, drawn from 
obscurity in whatever way, I can find means to 
maintain myself in the capital." 

Soon afterwards we find Winckelmann in the 
library at Nothenitz. Thence he made many 
visits to the collection of antiquities at Dresden. 
He became acquainted with many artists, above 
all with Oeser, Goethe's future friend and master, 
who, uniting a high culture with the practical 
knowledge of art, was fitted to minister to 
Winckelmann's culture. And now a new channel 
of communion with the Greek life was opened 
for him. Hitherto he had handled the words 
only of Greek poetry, stirred indeed and roused 
by them, yet divining beyond the words some 
unexpressed pulsation of sensuous life. Suddenly 

183 



THE RENAISSANCE 

he is in contact with that life, still fervent in the 
relics of plastic art. Filled as our culture is with 
the classical spirit, we can hardly imagine how 
deeply the human mind was moved, when, at 
the Renaissance, in the midst of a frozen world, 
the buried fire of ancient art rose up from under 
the soil. Winckelmann here reproduces for us 
the earlier sentiment of the Renaissance. On a 
sudden the imagination feels itself free. How 
facile and direct, it seems to say, is this life of 
the senses and the understanding, when once we 
have apprehended it ! Here, surely, is that more 
liberal mode of life we have been seeking so long, 
so near to us all the while. How mistaken and 
roundabout have been our efforts to reach it by 
mystic passion, and monastic reverie ; how they 
have deflowered the flesh ; how little have they 
really emancipated us ! Hermione melts from 
her stony posture, and the lost proportions of life 
right themselves. Here, then, in vivid realisation 
we see the native tendency of Winckelmann to 
escape from abstract theory to intuition, to the 
exercise of sight and touch. Lessing, in the 
Laocoon, has theorised finely on the relation of 
poetry to sculpture ; and philosophy may give us 
theoretical reasons why not poetry but sculpture 
should be the most sincere and exact expression of 
the Greek ideal. By a happy, unperplexed dex- 
terity, Winckelmann solves the question in the con- 
crete. It is what Goethe calls his Gewahrwerden 
der griechischen Kunst, }\\s finding of Greek art. 

184 



WINCKELMANN 

Through the tumultuous richness of Goethe's 
culture, the influence of Winckelmann is always 
discernible, as the strong, regulative under-current 
of a clear, antique motive. " One learns nothing 
from him," he says to Eckermann, "but one 
becomes something." If we ask what the secret 
of this influence was, Goethe himself will tell 
us wholeness, unity with one's self, intellectual 
integrity. And yet these expressions, because they 
fit Goethe, with his universal culture, so well, 
seem hardly to describe the narrow, exclusive 
interest of Winckelmann. Doubtless Winckel- 
mann's perfection is a narrow perfection : his 
feverish nursing of the one motive of his life is 
a contrast to Goethe's various energy. But 
what affected Goethe, what instructed him and 
ministered to his culture, was the integrity, the 
truth to its type, of the given force. The develop- 
ment of this force was the single interest of 
Winckelmann, unembarrassed by anything else 
in him. Other interests, practical or intellectual, 
those slighter talents and motives not supreme, 
which in most men are the waste part of nature, 
and drain away their vitality, he plucked out and 
cast from him. The protracted longing of his 
youth is not a vague, romantic longing : he knows 
what he longs for, what he wills. Within its 
severe limits his enthusiasm burns like lava. 
"You know," says Lavater, speaking of Winckel- 
mann's countenance, " that I consider ardour and 
indifference by no means incompatible in the 

185 



THE RENAISSANCE 

same character. If ever there was a striking 
instance of that union, it is in the countenance 
before us." " A lowly childhood/' says Goethe, 
" insufficient instruction in youth, broken, dis- 
tracted studies in early manhood, the burden of 
school-keeping ! He was thirty years old before 
he enjoyed a single favour of fortune : but so 
soon as he had attained to an adequate condition 
of freedom, he appears before us consummate 
and entire, complete in the ancient sense." 

But his hair is turning grey, and he has not 
yet reached the south. The Saxon court had 
become Roman Catholic, and the way to favour 
at Dresden was through Roman ecclesiastics. 
Probably the thought of a profession of the 
papal religion was not new to Winckelmann. 
At one time he had thought of begging his way 
to Rome, from cloister to cloister, under the 
pretence of a disposition to change his faith. In 
1751, the papal nuncio^ Archinto, was one of the 
visitors at Nothenitz. He suggested Rome as 
the fitting stage for Winckelmann's accomplish- 
ments, and held out the hope of a place in the 
Pope's library. Cardinal Passionei, charmed 
with Winckelmann's beautiful Greek writing, 
was ready to play the part of Maecenas, if 
the indispensable change were made. Winckel- 
mann accepted the bribe, and visited the nuncio 
at Dresden. Unquiet still at the word "pro- 
fession," not without a struggle, he joined the 
Roman Church, July the nth, 1754. 

186 



WINCKELMANN 

Goethe boldly pleads that Winckelmann was 
a pagan, that the landmarks of Christendom 
meant nothing to him. It is clear that he 
intended to deceive no one by his disguise ; fears 
of the inquisition are sometimes visible during 
his life in Rome ; he entered Rome notoriously 
with the works of Voltaire in his possession ; the 
thought of what Count Biinau might be thinking 
of him seems to have been his greatest difficulty. 
On the other hand, he may have had a sense of 
a certain antique and as it were pagan grandeur 
in the Roman Catholic religion. Turning 
from the crabbed Protestantism, which had been 
the ennui of his youth, he might reflect that 
while Rome had reconciled itself to the Renais- 
sance, the Protestant principle in art had cut off 
Germany from the supreme tradition of beauty. 
And yet to that transparent nature, with its 
simplicity as of the earlier world, the loss of 
absolute sincerity must have been a real loss. 
Goethe understands that Winckelmann had made 
this sacrifice. Yet at the bar of the highest 
criticism, perhaps, Winckelmann may be absolved. 
The insincerity of his religious profession was 
only one incident of a culture in which the 
moral instinct, like the religious or political, was 
merged in the artistic. But then the artistic 
interest was that, by desperate faithfulness to 
which Winckelmann was saved from the medio- 
crity, which, breaking through no bounds, moves 
ever in a bloodless routine, and misses its one 

187 



THE RENAISSANCE 

chance in the life of the spirit and the intellect. 
There have been instances of culture developed 
by every high motive in turn, and yet intense at 
every point ; and the aim of our culture should 
be to attain not only as intense but as complete 
a life as possible. But often the higher life is 
only possible at all, on condition of the selection 
of that in which one's motive is native and strong ; 
and this selection involves the renunciation of a 
crown reserved for others. Which is better ? 
to lay open a new sense, to initiate a new organ 
for the human spirit, or to cultivate many types 
of perfection up to a point which leaves us still 
beyond the range of their transforming power ? 
Savonarola is one type of success ; Winckelmann 
is another ; criticism can reject neither, because 
each is true to itself. Winckelmann himself 
explains the motive of his life when he says, " It 
will be my highest reward, if posterity acknow- 
ledges that I have written worthily." 

For a time he remained at Dresden. There 
his first book appeared, Thoughts on the Imitation 
of Greek Works of Art in Painting and Sculpture. 
Full of obscurities as it was, obscurities which 
baffled but did not offend Goethe when he first 
turned to art-criticism, its purpose was direct 
an appeal from the artificial classicism of the 
day to the study of the antique. The book was 
well received, and a pension supplied through 
the king's confessor. In September 1755 he 
started for Rome, in the company of a young 

188 



WINCKELMANN 

Jesuit. He was introduced to Raphael Mengs, 
a painter then of note, and found a home near 
him, in the artists' quarter, in a place where he 
could " overlook, far and wide, the eternal city." 
At first he was perplexed with the sense of being 
a stranger on what was to him, spiritually, native 
soil. " Unhappily," he cries in French, often 
selected by him as the vehicle of strong feeling, 
" I am one of those whom the Greeks call 
otywaOels. I have come into the world and into 
Italy too late." More than thirty years after- 
wards, Goethe also, after many aspirations and 
severe preparation of mind, visited Italy. In 
early manhood, just as he too was finding Greek art, 
the rumour of that true artist's life of' Winckel- 
mann in Italy had strongly moved him. At 
Rome, spending a whole year drawing from the 
antique, in preparation for Iphigenie, he finds the 
stimulus of Winckelmann's memory ever active. 
Winckelmann's Roman life was simple, primeval, 
Greek. His delicate constitution permitted him 
the use only of bread and wine. Condemned by 
many as a renegade, he had no desire for places 
of honour, but only to see his merits acknow- 
ledged, and existence assured to him. He was 
simple without being niggardly ; he desired to 
be neither poor nor rich. 

Winckelmann's first years in Rome present all 
the elements of an intellectual situation of the 
highest interest. The beating of the soul 
against its bars, the sombre aspect, the alien tradi- 

189 



THE RENAISSANCE 

tions, the still barbarous literature of Germany, 
are afar off; before him are adequate conditions 
of culture, the sacred soil itself, the first tokens 
of the advent of the new German literature, 
with its broad horizons, its boundless intellectual 
promise. Dante, passing from the darkness of 
the Inferno^ is filled with a sharp and joyful sense 
of light, which makes him deal with it, in the 
opening of the Purgatorio y in a wonderfully touch- 
ing and penetrative way. Hellenism, which is 
the principle pre-eminently of intellectual light 
(our modern culture may have more colour, the 
medieval spirit greater heat and profundity, but 
Hellenism is pre-eminent for light), has always 
been most effectively conceived by those who 
have crept into it out of an intellectual world in 
which the sombre elements predominate. So it 
had been in the ages of the Renaissance. This 
repression, removed at last, gave force and glow 
to Winckelmann's native affinity to the Hellenic 
spirit. "There had been known before him," 
says Madame de Stael, " learned men who might 
be consulted like books ; but no one had, if I may 
say so, made himself a pagan for the purpose of 
penetrating antiquity." " One is always a poor 
executant of conceptions not one's own.": On 
execute mal ce qifon rfa pas conqu sot-meme 1 
are true in their measure of every genuine 
enthusiasm. Enthusiasm, that, in the broad 
Platonic sense of the Phaedrus^ was the secret of 

* Words of Charlotte Corday before the Convention. 
190 



WINCKELMANN 

his divinatory power over the Hellenic world. 
This enthusiasm, dependent as it is to a great 
degree on bodily temperament, has a power 
of re-enforcing the purer emotions of the 
intellect with an almost physical excitement. 
That his affinity with Hellenism was not 
merely intellectual, that the subtler threads of 
temperament were inwoven in it, is proved by 
his romantic, fervent friendships with young men. 
He has known, he says, many young men more 
beautiful than Guido's archangel. These friend- 
ships, bringing him into contact with the pride of 
human form, and staining the thoughts with its 
bloom, perfected his reconciliation to the spirit 
of Greek sculpture. A letter on taste, -addressed 
from Rome to a young nobleman, Friedrich von 
Berg, is the record of such a friendship. 

" I shall excuse my delay/ 1 he begins, " in 
fulfilling my promise of an essay on the taste for 
beauty in works of art, in the words of Pindar. 
He says to Agesidamus, a youth of Locri 

ISea re ica\6v, &pa re /ceicpa^vov whom he had kept 

waiting for an intended ode, that a debt paid 
with usury is the end of reproach. This may 
win your good-nature on behalf of my present 
essay, which has turned out far more detailed 
and circumstantial than I had at first intended. 

" It is from yourself that the subject is taken. 
Our intercourse has been short, too short both 
for you and me ; but the first time I saw you, 
the affinity of our spirits was revealed to me : 

191 



THE RENAISSANCE 

your culture proved that my hope was not 
groundless ; and I found in a beautiful body a 
soul created for nobleness, gifted with the sense 
of beauty. My parting from you was therefore 
one of the most painful in my life ; and that this 
feeling continues our common friend is witness, 
for your separation from me leaves me no hope 
of seeing you again. Let this essay be a 
memorial of our friendship, which, on my side, 
is free from every selfish motive, and ever re- 
mains subject and dedicate to yourself alone." 
The following passage is characteristic 
" As it is confessedly the beauty of man which 
is to be conceived under one general idea, so I 
have noticed that those who are observant of 
beauty only in women, and are moved little or 
not at all by the beauty of men, seldom have an 
impartial, vital, inborn instinct for beauty in art. 
To such persons the beauty of Greek art will 
ever seem wanting, because its supreme beauty 
is rather male than female. But the beauty of art 
demands a higher sensibility than the beauty 
of nature, because the beauty of art, like tears 
shed at a play, gives no pain, is without life, and 
must be awakened and repaired by culture. 
Now, as the spirit of culture is much more ardent 
in youth than in manhood, the instinct of which 
I am speaking must be exercised and directed to 
what is beautiful, before that age is reached, at 
which one would be afraid to confess that one 
had no taste for it." 

192 



WINCKELMANN 

Certainly, of that beauty of living form which 
regulated Winckelmann's friendships, it could 
not be said that it gave no pain. One notable 
friendship, the fortune of which we may trace 
through his letters, begins with an antique, 
chivalrous letter in French, and ends noisily in a 
burst of angry fire. Far from reaching the 
quietism, the bland indifference of art, such 
attachments are nevertheless more susceptible 
than any others of equal strength of a purely 
intellectual culture. Of passion, of physical 
excitement, they contain only just so much as 
stimulates the eye to the finest delicacies of colour 
and form. These friendships, often the caprices 
of a moment, make Winckelmann's letters, with 
their troubled colouring, an instructive but bizarre 
addition to the History of 'Art \ that shrine of grave 
and mellow light around the mute Olympian 
family. The impression which Winckelmann's 
literary life conveyed to those about him was 
that of excitement, intuition, inspiration, rather 
than the contemplative evolution of general 
principles. The quick, susceptible enthusiast, 
betraying his temperament even in appearance, 
by his olive complexion, his deep-seated, piercing 
eyes, his rapid movements, apprehended the 
subtlest principles of the Hellenic manner, not 
through the understanding, but by instinct or 
touch. A German biographer of Winckelmann 
has compared him to Columbus. That is not 
the aptest of comparisons ; but it reminds one of 

o 193 



THE RENAISSANCE 

a passage in which Edgar Quinet^ describes the 
great discoverer's famous voyage. His science 
was often at fault ; but he had a way of esti- 
mating at once the slightest indication of land, 
in a floating weed or passing bird ; he seemed 
actually to come nearer to nature than other 
men. And that world in which others had 
moved with so much embarrassment, seems to 
call out in Winckelmann new senses fitted to 
deal with it. He is in touch with it ; it 
penetrates him, and becomes part of his tempera- 
ment. He remodels his writings with constant 
renewal of insight ; he catches the thread of a 
whole sequence of laws in some hollowing of the 
hand, or dividing of the hair ; he seems to 
realise that fancy of the reminiscence of a 
forgotten knowledge hidden for a time in the 
mind itself; as if the mind of one, lover and 
philosopher at once in some phase of pre- 
exist ence (j>i\o(70(f>ij(7a<i TTore /ieV e/swTo? fallen into 
a new cycle, were beginning its intellectual 
career over again, yet with a certain power of 
anticipating its results. So comes the truth of 
Goethe's judgments on his works ; they are a 
life, a living thing, designed for those who are 
alive ein Lebendiges fur die Lebendigen geschrieben^ 
em Leben selbst. 

In 1758 Cardinal Albani, who had formed in 
his Roman villa a precious collection of antiqui- 
ties, became Winckelmann's patron. Pompeii 
had just opened its treasures ; Winckelmann 

194 



WINCKELMANN 

gathered its first-fruits. But his plan of a visit 
to Greece remained unfulfilled. From his first 
arrival in Rome he had kept the History of Ancient 
Art ever in view. All his other writings were 
a preparation for that. It appeared, finally, in 
1764; but even after its publication Winckel- 
mann was still employed in perfecting it. It is 
since his time that many of the most significant 
examples of Greek art have been submitted to 
criticism. He had seen little or nothing of what 
we ascribe to the age of Pheidias ; and his con- 
ception of Greek art tends, therefore, to put the 
mere elegance of the imperial society of ancient 
Rome in place of the severe and chastened grace 
of the palaestra. For the most part he had to 
penetrate to Greek art through copies, imitations, 
and later Roman art itself ; and it is not surpris- 
ing that this turbid medium has left in Winckel- 
mann's actual results much that a more privileged 
criticism can correct. 

He had been twelve years in Rome. Admir- 
ing Germany had made many calls to him. At 
last, in 1768, he set out to revisit the country of 
his birth ; and as he left Rome, a strange, inverted 
home-sickness, a strange reluctance to leave it at 
all, came over him. He reached Vienna. There 
he was loaded with honours and presents : other 
cities were awaiting him. Goethe, then nine- 
teen years old, studying art at Leipsic, was* 
expecting his coming, with that wistful eager- 
ness which marked his youth, when the news 

J95 



THE RENAISSANCE 

of Winckelmann's murder arrived. All his 
" weariness of the North " had revived with 
double force. He left Vienna, intending to 
hasten back to Rome, and at Trieste a delay of 
a few days occurred. With characteristic open- 
ness, Winckelmann had confided his plans to a 
fellow-traveller, a man named Arcangeli, and had 
shown him the gold medals received at Vienna. 
Arcangeli's avarice was aroused. One morning 
he entered Winckelmann's room, under pretence 
of taking leave. Winckelmann was then writing 
" memoranda for the future editor of the History 
of Art" still seeking the perfection of his great 
work. Arcangeli begged to see the medals once 
more. As Winckelmann stooped down to take 
them from the chest, a cord was thrown round 
his neck. Some time afterwards, a child with 
whose companionship Winckelmann had beguiled 
his delay, knocked at the door, and receiving 
no answer, gave the alarm. Winckelmann was 
found dangerously wounded, and died a few hours 
later, after receiving the last sacraments. It 
seemed as if the gods, in reward for his devotion 
to them, had given him a death which, for its 
swiftness and its opportunity, he might well 
have desired. " He has," says Goethe, " the 
advantage of figuring in the memory of posterity, 
as one eternally able and strong ; for the image 
in which one leaves the world is that in which 
one moves among the shadows." Yet, perhaps, 
it is not fanciful to regret that his proposed 

196 



WINCKELMANN 

meeting with Goethe never took place. Goethe, 
then in all the pregnancy of his wonderful youth, 
still unruffled by the " press and storm " of his 
earlier manhood, was awaiting Winckelmann 
with a curiosity of the worthiest kind. As 
it was, Winckelmann became to him something 
like what Virgil was to Dante. And Winckel- 
mann, with his fiery friendships, had reached 
that age and that period of culture at which 
emotions hitherto fitful, sometimes concentrate 
themselves in a vital, unchangeable relation- 
ship. German literary history seems to have 
lost the chance of one of those famous friend- 
ships, the very tradition of which becomes a 
stimulus to culture, and exercises an imperishable 
influence. 

In one of the frescoes of the Vatican, Raphael 
has commemorated the tradition of the Catholic 
religion. Against a space of tranquil sky, broken 
in upon by the beatific vision, are ranged the 
great personages of Christian history, with the 
Sacrament in the midst. Another fresco of 
Raphael in the same apartment presents a very 
different company, Dante alone appearing in 
both. Surrounded by the muses of Greek 
mythology, under a thicket of laurel, sits 
Apollo, with the sources of Castalia at his feet. 
On either side are grouped those on whom the 
spirit of Apollo descended, the classical and 
Renaissance poets, to whom the waters of Castalia 

197 



THE RENAISSANCE 

come down, a river making glad this other " city 
of God." In this fresco it is the classical tra- 
dition, the orthodoxy of taste, that Raphael 
commemorates. Winckelmann's intellectual 
history authenticates the claims of this tradition 
in human culture. In the countries where that 
tradition arose, where it still lurked about its 
own artistic relics, and changes of language had 
not broken its continuity, national pride might 
sometimes light up anew an enthusiasm for 
it. Aliens might imitate that enthusiasm, and 
classicism become from time to time an intel- 
lectual fashion. But Winckelmann was not 
further removed by language, than by local 
aspects and associations, from those vestiges of 
the classical spirit ; and he lived at a time when, 
in Germany, classical studies were out of favour. 
Yet, remote in time and place, he feels after the 
Hellenic world, divines those channels of ancient 
art, in which its life still circulates, and, like Scyles, 
the half-barbarous yet Hellenising king, in the 
beautiful story of Herodotus, is irresistibly attracted 
by it. This testimony to the authority of the 
Hellenic tradition, its fitness to satisfy some vital 
requirement of the intellect, which Winckelmann 
contributes as a solitary man of genius, is offered 
also by the general history of the mind. The 
spiritual forces of the past, which have prompted 
and informed the culture of a succeeding age, live, 
indeed, within that culture, but with an absorbed, 
underground life. The Hellenic element alone 

198 



WINCKELMANN 

has not been so absorbed, or content with this 
underground life ; from time to time it has started 
to the surface ; culture has been drawn back to 
its sources to be clarified and corrected. Hellen- 
ism is not merely an absorbed element in our 
intellectual life ; it is a conscious tradition in it. 
Again, individual genius works ever under 
conditions of time and place : its products are 
coloured by the varying aspects of nature, and 
type of human form, and outward manners of 
life. There is thus an element of change in art ; 
criticism must never for a moment forget that 
" the artist is the child of his time." But besides 
these conditions of time and place, and indepen- 
dent of them, there is also an element of 
permanence, a standard of taste, which genius 
confesses. This standard is maintained in a 
purely intellectual tradition. It acts upon the 
artist, not as one of the influences of his own 
age, but through those artistic products of the 
previous generation which first excited, while 
they directed into a particular channel, his 
sense of beauty. The supreme artistic products 
of succeeding generations thus form a series of 
elevated points, taking each from each the re- 
flection of a strange light, the source of which is 
not in the atmosphere around and above them, 
but in a stage of society remote from ours. The 
standard of taste, then, was fixed in Greece, at a 
definite historical period. A tradition for all suc- 
ceeding generations, it originates in a spontaneous 

199 



THE RENAISSANCE 

growth out of the influences of Greek society. 
What were the conditions under which this 
ideal, this standard of artistic orthodoxy, was 
generated ? How was Greece enabled to force 
its thought upon Europe ? 

Greek art, when we first catch sight of it, 
is entangled with Greek religion. We are ac- 
customed to think of Greek religion as the 
religion of art and beauty, the religion of which 
the Olympian Zeus and the Athena Polias are 
the idols, the poems of Homer the sacred books. 
Thus Cardinal Newman speaks of " the classical 
polytheism which was gay and graceful, as was 
natural in a civilised age." Yet such a view is 
only a partial one. In it the eye is fixed on the 
sharp, bright edge of high Hellenic culture, but 
loses sight of the sombre world across which it 
strikes. Greek religion, where we can observe 
it most distinctly, is at once a magnificent 
ritualistic system, and a cycle of poetical con- 
ceptions. Religions, as they grow by natural 
laws out of man's life, are modified by whatever 
modifies his life. They brighten under a bright 
sky, they become liberal as the social range 
widens, they grow intense and shrill in the clefts 
of human life, where the spirit is narrow and 
confined, and the stars are visible at noonday ; 
and a fine analysis of these differences is one of 
the gravest functions of religious criticism. Still, 
the broad foundation, in mere human nature, of 
all religions as they exist for the greatest number, 

200 



WINCKELMANN 

is a universal pagan sentiment, a paganism which 
existed before the Greek religion, and has lingered 
far onward into the Christian world, ineradicable, 
like some persistent vegetable growth, because 
its seed is an element of the very soil out of which 
it springs. 

This pagan sentiment measures the sadness 
with which the human mind is rilled, whenever 
its thoughts wander far from what is here, and 
now. It is beset by notions of irresistible natural 
powers, for the most part ranged against man, 
but the secret also of his fortune, making the 
earth golden and the grape fiery for him. He 
makes gods in his own image, gods smiling 
and flower-crowned, or bleeding by some sad 
fatality, to console him by their wounds, never 
closed from generation to generation. It is 
with a rush of home-sickness that the thought 
of death presents itself. He would remain at 
home for ever on the earth if he could. As it 
loses its colour and the senses fail, he clings ever 
closer to it ; but since the mouldering of bones 
and flesh must go on to the end, he is careful for 
charms and talismans, which may chance to have 
some friendly power in them, when the inevitable 
shipwreck comes. Such sentiment is a part of 
the eternal basis of all religions, modified indeed 
by changes of time and place, but indestructible, 
because its root is so deep in the earth of man's 
nature. The breath of religious initiators passes 
over them ; a few " rise up with wings as eagles/' 

201 



THE RENAISSANCE 

but the broad level of religious life is not per- 
manently changed. Religious progress, like all 
purely spiritual progress, is confined to a few. 
This sentiment attaches itself in the earliest times 
to certain usages of patriarchal life, the kindling 
of fire, the washing of the body, the slaughter of 
the flock, the gathering of harvest, holidays and 
dances. Here are the beginnings of a ritual, at 
first as occasional and unfixed as the sentiment 
which it expresses, but destined to become the 
permanent element of religious life. The usages 
of patriarchal life change ; but this germ of ritual 
remains, promoted now with a consciously religious 
motive, losing its domestic character, and therefore 
becoming more and more inexplicable with each 
generation. Such pagan worship, in spite of local 
variations, essentially one, is an element in all 
religions. It is the anodyne which the religious 
principle, like one administering opiates to the 
incurable, has added to the law which makes 
life sombre for the vast majority of mankind. 

More definite religious conceptions come from 
other sources, and fix themselves upon this ritual 
in various ways, changing it, and giving it new 
meanings. In Greece they were derived from 
mythology, itself not due to a religious source at 
all, but developing in the course of time into a 
body of religious conceptions, entirely human in 
form and character. To the unprogressive ritual 
element it brought these conceptions, itself 
17 irrepov Svvajw, the power of the wing an element 

202 



WINCKELMANN 

of refinement, of ascension, with the promise of 
an endless destiny. While the ritual remains 
unchanged, the aesthetic element, only accidentally 
connected with it, expands with the freedom and 
mobility of the things of the intellect. Always, 
the fixed element is the religious observance ; the 
fluid, unfixed element is the myth, the religious 
conception. This religion is itself pagan, and has 
in any broad view of it the pagan sadness. It 
does not at once, and for the majority, become the 
higher Hellenic religion. The country people, 
of course, cherish the unlovely idols of an earlier 
time, such as those which Pausanias found still 
devoutly preserved in Arcadia. Athenaeus tells 
the story of one who, coming to a temple of 
Latona, had expected to find some worthy pre- 
sentment of the mother of Apollo, and laughed 
on seeing only a shapeless wooden figure. The 
wilder people have wilder gods, which, however, 
in Athens, or Corinth, or Lacedasmon, changing 
ever with the worshippers in whom they live and 
move and have their being, borrow something of 
the lordliness and distinction of human nature 
there. Greek religion too has its mendicants, 
its purifications, its antinomian mysticism, its 
garments offered to the gods, its statues worn 
with kissing, its exaggerated superstitions for the 
vulgar only, its worship of sorrow, its addolorata^ 
its mournful mysteries. Scarcely a wild or 
melancholy note of the medieval church but was 
anticipated by Greek polytheism ! What should 

203 



THE RENAISSANCE 

we have thought of the vertiginous prophetess 
at the very centre of Greek religion ? The 
supreme Hellenic culture is a sharp edge of 
light across this gloom. The fiery, stupefying 
wine becomes in a happier climate clear and 
exhilarating. The Dorian worship of Apollo, 
rational, chastened, debonair, with his unbroken 
daylight, always opposed to the sad Chthonian 
divinities, is the aspiring element, by force and 
spring of which Greek religion sublimes itself. 
Out of Greek religion, under happy conditions, 
arises Greek art, to minister to human culture. 
It was the privilege of Greek religion to be able 
to transform itself into an artistic ideal. 

For the thoughts of the Greeks about them- 
selves, and their relation to the world generally, 
were ever in the happiest readiness to be trans- 
formed into objects for the senses. In this lies 
the main distinction between Greek art and the 
mystical art of the Christian middle age, which 
is always struggling to express thoughts beyond 
itself. Take, for instance, a characteristic work 
of the middle age, Angelico's Coronation of the 
Virgin^ in the cloister of Saint Mark's at Florence. 
In some strange halo of a moon Jesus and the 
Virgin Mother are seated, clad in mystical white 
raiment, half shroud, half priestly linen. Jesus, 
with rosy nimbus and the long pale hair tanquam 
lana alba et tanquam nix of the figure in the 
Apocalypse, with slender finger-tips is setting 
a crown of pearl on the head of Mary, who, 

204 



WINCKELMANN 

corpse-like in her refinement, is bending forward 
to receive it, the light lying like mow upon her 
forehead. Certainly, it cannot be said of Angelico's 
fresco that it throws into a sensible form our 
highest thoughts about man and his relation to 
the world ; but it did not do this adequately 
even for Angelico. For him, all that is outward 
or sensible in his work the hair like wool, the 
rosy nimbus, the crown of pearl is only the 
symbol or type of a really inexpressible world, 
to which he wishes to direct the thoughts; he 
would have shrunk from the notion that what 
the eye apprehended was all. Such forms of art, 
then, are inadequate to the matter they clothe ; 
they remain ever below its level. Something of 
this kind is true also of oriental art. As in the 
middle age from an exaggerated inwardness, so 
in the East from a vagueness, a want of definition, 
in thought, the matter presented to art is un- 
manageable, and the forms of sense struggle 
vainly with it. The many-headed gods of the 
East, the orientalised, many-breasted Diana of 
Ephesus, like Angelico's fresco, are at best over- 
charged symbols, a means of hinting at an idea 
which art cannot fitly or completely express, 
which still remains in the world of shadows. 

But fake a work of Greek art, the Venus of 
Melos. That is in no sense a symbol, a sugges- 
tion, of anything beyond its own victorious fair- 
ness. The mind begins and ends with the finite 
image, yet loses no part of the spiritual motive. 

205 



THE RENAISSANCE 

That motive is not lightly and loosely attached 
to the sensuous form, as its meaning to an 
allegory, but saturates and is identical with it. 
The Greek mind had advanced to a particular 
stage of self-reflexion, but was careful not to pass 
beyond it. In oriental thought there is a vague 
conception of life everywhere, but no true 
appreciation of itself by the mind, no knowledge 
of the distinction of man's nature : in its con- 
sciousness of itself, humanity is still confused 
with the fantastic, indeterminate life of the 
animal and vegetable world. In Greek thought, 
on the other hand, the " lordship of the soul " is 
recognised ; that lordship gives authority and 
divinity to human eyes and hands and feet ; in- 
animate nature is thrown into the background. 
But just there Greek thought finds its happy 
limit; it has not yet become too inward ; the mind 
has not yet learned to boast its independence of the 
flesh ; the spirit has not yet absorbed everything 
with its emotions, nor reflected its own colour 
everywhere. It has indeed committed itself to a 
train of reflexion which must end in defiance of 
form, of all that is outward, in an exaggerated 
idealism. But that end is still distant : it has not 
yet plunged into the depths of religious mysticism. 
This ideal art, in which the thought does not 
outstrip or lie beyond the proper range of its 
sensible embodiment, could not have arisen out of 
a phase of life that was uncomely or poor. That 
delicate pause in Greek reflexion was joined, by 

206 



WINCKELMANN 

some supreme good luck, to the perfect animal 
nature of the Greeks. Here are the two condi- 
tions of an artistic ideal. The influences which 
perfected the animal nature of the Greeks are part 
of the process by which " the ideal " was evolved. 
Those " Mothers " who, in the second part of 
Faust> mould and remould the typical forms that 
appear in human history, preside, at the beginning 
of Greek culture, over such a concourse of happy 
physical conditions as ever generates by natural 
laws some rare type of intellectual or spiritual 
life. That delicate air, "nimbly and sweetly 
recommending itself" to the senses, the finer 
aspects of nature, the finer lime and clay of the 
human form, and modelling of the dainty frame- 
work of the human countenance : these are the 
good luck of the Greek when he enters upon 
life. Beauty becomes a distinction, like genius, 
or noble place. 

" By no people," says Winckelmann, " has 
beauty been so highly esteemed as by the Greeks. 
The priests of a youthful Jupiter at JEgx 9 of the 
Ismenian Apollo, and the priest who at Tanagra 
led the procession of Mercury, bearing a lamb 
upon his shoulders, were always youths to whom 
the prize of beauty had been awarded. The 
citizens of Egesta erected a monument to a 
certain Philip, who was not their fellow-citizen, 
but of Croton, for his distinguished beauty ; 
and the people made offerings at it. In an 
ancient song, ascribed to Simonides or Epichar- 

207 



THE RENAISSANCE 

mus, of four wishes, the first was health, the 
second beauty. And as beauty was so longed 
for and prized by the Greeks, every beautiful 
person sought to become known to the whole 
people by this distinction, and above all to 
approve himself to the artists, because they 
awarded the prize ; and this was for the artists 
an occasion for having supreme beauty ever 
before their eyes. Beauty even gave a right to 
fame ; and we find in Greek histories the most 
beautiful people distinguished. Some were 
famous for the beauty of one single part of their 
form ; as Demetrius Phalereus, for his beautiful 
eyebrows, was called Charito-blepharos. It seems 
even to have been thought that the procreation 
of beautiful children might be promoted by 
prizes. This is shown by the existence of contests 
for beauty, which in ancient times were estab- 
lished by Cypselus, King of Arcadia, by the river 
Alpheus ; and, at the feast of Apollo of Philae, a 
prize was offered to the youths for the deftest 
kiss. This was decided by an umpire ; as also 
at Megara, by the grave of Diocles. At Sparta, 
and at Lesbos, in the temple of Juno, and among 
the Parrhasii, there were contests for beauty 
among women. The general esteem for beauty 
went so far, that the Spartan women set up in 
their bedchambers a Nireus, a Narcissus, or a 
Hyacinth, that they might bear beautiful 
children." 

So, from a few stray antiquarianisms, a few 
208 



WINCKELMANN 

faces cast up sharply from the waves, Winckel- 
mann, as his manner was, divines the tempera- 
ment of the antique world, and that in which it 
had delight. It has passed away with that distant 
age, and we may venture to dwell upon it. 
What sharpness and reality it has is the sharpness 
and reality of suddenly arrested life. The Greek 
system of gymnastics originated as part of a 
religious ritual. The worshipper was to recom- 
mend himself to thq gods by becoming fleet 
and fair, white and red, like them. The beauty of 
the palaestra^ and the beauty of the artist's work- 
shop, reacted on one another. The youth tried 
to rival his gods ; and his increased beauty passed 
back into them. " I take jthe gods to witness, I 
had rather have a fair body than a king's crown " 

"QfjwvjM TTavTas $eou9 /A?) e\e<r6ai av TTJI; /3acrtXeo)? ap^rjv 

avrl rov *aXo9 elvai* that is the form in which one 
age of the world chose the higher life. A perfect 
world, if the gods could have seemed for ever only 
fleet and fair, white and red ! Let us not regret 
that this unperplexed youth of humanity, satisfied 
with the vision of itself, passed, at the due moment, 
into a mournful maturity ; for already the deep 
joy was in store for the spirit, of finding the ideal 
of that youth still red with life in the grave. 

It followed that the Greek ideal expressed 
itself pre-eminently in sculpture. All art has a 
sensuous element, colour, form, sound in poetry 
a dexterous recalling of these, together with the 
profound, joyful sensuousness of motion, and each 

p 209 



THE RENAISSANCE 

of them may be a medium for the ideal : it is 
partly accident which in any individual case 
makes the born artist, poet, or painter rather than 
sculptor. But as the mind itself has had an 
historical development, one form of art, by the 
very limitations of its material, may be more 
adequate than another for the expression of any 
one phase of that development. Different atti- 
tudes of the imagination have a native affinity 
with different types of sensuous form, so that they 
combine together, with completeness and ease. 
The arts may thus be ranged in a series, which 
corresponds to a series of developments in the 
human mind itself. Architecture, which begins 
in a practical need, can only express by vague hint 
or symbol the spirit or mind of the artist. He 
closes his sadness over him, or wanders in the 
perplexed intricacies of things, or projects his 
purpose from him clean-cut and sincere, or bares 
himself to the sunlight. But these spiritualities, 
felt rather than seen, can but lurk about archi- 
tectural form as volatile effects, to be gathered 
from it by reflexion. Their expression is, indeed, 
not really sensuous at all. As human form is not 
the subject with which it deals, architecture is the 
mode in which the artistic effort centres, when 
the thoughts of man concerning himself are still 
indistinct, when he is still little preoccupied with 
those harmonies, storms, victories, of the unseen 
and intellectual world, which, wrought out into 
the bodily form, give it an interest and signifi- 

210 



WINCKELMANN 

cance communicable to it alone. The art of Egypt, 
with its supreme architectural effects, is, accord- 
ing to Hegel's beautiful comparison, a Memnon 
waiting for the day, the day of the Greek spirit, 
the humanistic spirit, with its power of speech. 

Again, painting, music, and poetry, with their 
endless power of complexity, are the special arts 
of the romantic and modern ages. Into these, 
with the utmost attenuation of detail, may be 
translated every delicacy of thought and feeling, 
incidental to a consciousness brooding with 
delight over itself. Through their gradations of 
shade, their exquisite intervals, they project in 
an external form that which is most inward in 
passion or sentiment. Between architecture and 
those romantic arts of painting, music, and poetry, 
comes sculpture, which, unlike architecture, deals 
immediately with man, while it contrasts with 
the romantic arts, because it is not self-analytical. 
It Has to do more exclusively than any other art 
with the human form, itself one entire medium of 
spiritual expression, trembling, blushing, melting 
into dew, with inward excitement. That spiritu- 
ality which only lurks about architecture as a 
volatile effect, in sculpture takes up the whole 
given material, and penetrates it with an imagin- 
ative^ motive ; and at first sight sculpture, with its 
solidity of form, seems a thing more real and full 
than the faint, abstract world of poetry or painting. 
Still the fact is the reverse. Discourse and action 
show man as he is, more directly than the play of 

211 



THE RENAISSANCE 

the muscles and the moulding of the flesh ; and 
over these poetry has command. Painting, by the 
flushing of colour in the face and dilatation of light 
in the eye music, by its subtle range of tones 
can refine most delicately upon a single moment 
of passion, unravelling its subtlest threads. 

But why should sculpture thus limit itself 
to pure form ? Because, by this limitation, it 
becomes a perfect medium of expression for one 
peculiar motive of the imaginative intellect. It 
therefore renounces all those attributes of its 
material which do not forward that motive. 
It has had, indeed, from the beginning an unfixed 
claim to colour ; but this element of colour in it 
has always been more or less conventional, with 
no melting or modulation of tones, never permit- 
ting more than a very limited realism. It was 
maintained chiefly as a religious tradition. In 
proportion as the art of sculpture ceased to be 
merely decorative, and subordinate to architecture, 
it threw itself upon pure form. It renounces the 
power of expression by lower or heightened tones. 
In it, no member of the human form is more 
significant than the rest ; the eye is wide, and 
without pupil ; the lips and brow are hardly less 
significant than hands, and breasts, and feet. But 
the limitation of its resources is part of its pride : 
it has no backgrounds, no sky or atmosphere, to 
suggest and interpret a train of feeling ; a little 
of suggested motion, and much of pure light on 
its gleaming surfaces, with pure form only these. 

212 



WINCKELMANN 

And it gains more than it loses by this limitation 
to its own distinguishing motives ; it unveils man 
in the repose of his unchanging characteristics. 
That white light, purged from the angry, blood- 
like stains of action and passion, reveals, not what 
is accidental in man, but the tranquil godship in 
him, as opposed to the restless accidents of life. 
The art of sculpture records the first naiVe, unper- 
plexed recognition of man by himself; and it is a 
proof of the high artistic capacity of the Greeks, 
that they apprehended and remained true to these 
exquisite limitations, yet, in spite of them, gave 
to their creations a mobile, a vital, individuality. 

Heiterkeit blitheness or repose, and Allgemein- 
heit generality or breadth, are, then, the supreme 
characteristics of the Hellenic ideal. But that 
generality or breadth has nothing in common 
with the lax observation, the unlearned thought, 
the flaccid execution, which have sometimes 
claimed superiority in art, on the plea of being 
" broad " or " general." Hellenic breadth and 
generality come of a culture minute, severe, 
constantly renewed, rectifying and concentrating 
its impressions into certain pregnant types. 

The basis of all artistic genius lies in the power 
of conceiving humanity in a new and striking way, 
of putting a happy world of its own creation in 
place of the meaner world of our common days, 
generating around itself an atmosphere with a 
novel power of refraction, selecting, transforming, 
recombining the images it transmits, according to 

213 



THE RENAISSANCE 

the choice of the imaginative intellect. In exer- 
cising this power, painting and poetry have a 
variety of subject almost unlimited. The range 
of characters or persons open to them is as various 
as life itself; no character, however trivial, mis- 
shapen, or unlovely, can resist their magic. That 
is because those arts can accomplish their function 
in the choice and development of some special 
situation, which lifts or glorifies a character, in 
itself not poetical. To realise this situation, to 
define, in a chill and empty atmosphere, the focus 
where rays, in themselves pale and impotent, unite 
and begin to burn, the artist may have, indeed, to 
employ the most cunning detail, to complicate 
and refine upon thought and passion a thousand- 
fold. Let us take a brilliant example from the 
poems of Robert Browning. His poetry is 
pre-eminently the poetry of situations. The 
characters themselves are always of secondary 
importance ; often they are characters in them- 
selves of little interest ; they seem to come to 
him by strange accidents from the ends of the 
world. His gift is shown by the way in which 
he accepts such a character, throws it into some 
situation, or apprehends it in some delicate pause 
of life, in which for a moment it becomes ideal. 
In the poem entitled Le Byron de nos Jours, in 
his Dramatis Personae, we have a single moment 
of passion thrown into relief after this exquisite 
fashion. Those two jaded Parisians are not intrinsic- 
ally interesting : they begin to interest us only 

214 



WINCKELMANN 

when thrown into a choice situation. But to 
discriminate that moment, to make it appreciable 
by us, that we may " find " it, what a cobweb of 
allusions, what double and treble reflexions of 
the mind upon itself, what an artificial light is 
constructed and broken over the chosen situation ; 
on how fine a needle's point that little world of 
passion is balanced ! Yet, in spite of this intricacy, 
the poem has the clear ring of a central motive. 
We receive from it the impression of one 
imaginative tone, of a single creative act. 

To produce such effects at all requires all the 
resources of painting, with its power of indirect 
expression, of subordinate but significant detail, 
its atmosphere, its foregrounds and backgrounds. 
To produce them in a pre-eminent degree 
requires all the resources of poetry, language in 
its most purged form, its remote associations and 
suggestions, its double and treble lights. These 
appliances sculpture cannot command. In it, 
therefore, not the special situation, but the type, 
the general character of the subject to be 
delineated, is all -important. In poetry and 
painting, the situation predominates over the 
character ; in sculpture, the character over the 
situation. Excluded by the proper limitation of 
its material from the development of exquisite 
situations, it has to choose from a select number 
of types intrinsically interesting interesting, 
that is, independently of any special situation 
into which they may be thrown. Sculpture 

215 



THE RENAISSANCE 

finds the secret of its power in presenting these 
types, in their broad, central, incisive lines. 
This it effects not by accumulation of detail, but 
by abstracting from it. All that is accidental, 
all that distracts the simple effect upon us of the 
supreme types of humanity, all traces in them of 
the commonness of the world, it gradually purges 
away. 

Works of art produced under this law, and 
only these, are really characterised by Hellenic 
generality or breadth. In every direction it is a 
law of restraint. It keeps passion always below 
that degree of intensity at which it must 
necessarily be transitory, never winding up the 
features to one note of anger, or desire, or 
surprise. In some of the feebler allegorical 
designs of the middle age, we find isolated 
qualities portrayed as by so many masks ; its 
religious art has familiarised us with faces fixed 
immovably into blank types of placid reverie. 
Men and women, again, in the hurry of life, often 
wear the sharp impress of one absorbing motive, 
from which it is said death sets their features 
free. All such instances may be ranged under 
the grotesque ; and the Hellenic ideal has nothing 
in common with the grotesque. It allows passion 
to play lightly over the surface of the individual 
form, losing thereby nothing of its central 
impassivity, its depth and repose. To all but 
the highest culture, the reserved faces of the gods 
will ever have something of insipidity. 

216 



WINCKELMANN 

Again, in the best Greek sculpture, the archaic 
immobility has been stirred, its forms are in 
motion ; but it is a motion ever kept in reserve, 
and very seldom committed to any definite 
action. Endless as are the attitudes of Greek 
sculpture, exquisite as is the invention of the 
Greeks in this direction, the actions or situations 
it permits are simple and few. There is no 
Greek Madonna ; the goddesses are always 
childless. The actions selected are those which 
would be without significance, except in a divine 
person binding on a sandal or preparing for the 
bath. When a more complex and significant 
action is permitted, it is most often represented 
as just finished, so that eager expectancy is 
excluded, as in the image of Apollo just after the 
slaughter of the Python, or of Venus with the 
apple of Paris already in her hand. The Laocoon, 
with all that patient science through which it 
has triumphed over an almost unmanageable 
subject, marks a period in which sculpture has 
begun to aim at effects legitimate, because 
delightful, only in painting. 

The hair, so rich a source of expression in 
painting, because, relatively to the eye or the lip, 
it is mere drapery, is withdrawn from attention ; 
its texture, as well as its colour, is lost, its 
arrangement but faintly and severely indicated, 
with no broken or enmeshed light. The eyes are 
wide and directionless, not fixing anything with 
their gaze, nor riveting the brain to any special 

217 



THE RENAISSANCE 

external object, the brows without hair. Again, 
Greek sculpture deals almost exclusively with 
youth, where the moulding of the bodily organs 
is still as if suspended between growth and com- 
pletion, indicated but not emphasised ; where the 
transition from curve to curve is so delicate and 
elusive, that Winckelmann compares it to a quiet 
sea, which, although we understand it to be in 
motion, we nevertheless regard as an image of 
repose ; where, therefore, the exact degree of 
development is so hard to apprehend. If a single 
product only of Hellenic art were to be saved in 
the wreck of all beside, one might choose perhaps 
from the "beautiful multitude "of the Panathenaic 
frieze, that line of youths on horseback, with 
their level glances, their proud, patient lips, their 
chastened reins, their whole bodies in exquisite 
service. This colourless, unclassified purity of life, 
with its blending and interpenetration of in- 
tellectual, spiritual, and physical elements, still 
folded together, pregnant with the possibilities 
of a whole world closed within it, is the highest 
expression of the indifference which lies beyond 
all that is relative or partial. Everywhere there 
is the effect of an awaking, of a child's sleep just 
disturbed. All these effects are united in a single 
instance the adorante of the museum of Berlin, 
a youth who has gained the wrestler's prize, with 
hands lifted and open, in praise for the victory. 
Fresh, unperplexed, it is the image of a man as he 
springs first from the sleep of nature, his white light 

218 



WINCKELMANN 

taking no colour from any one-sided experience. 
He is characterless, so far as character involves 
subjection to the accidental influences of life. 

" This sense," says Hegel, " for the consum- 
mate modelling of divine and human forms was 
pre-eminently at home in Greece. In its poets 
and orators, its historians and philosophers, 
Greece cannot be conceived from a central point, 
unless one brings, as a key to the understanding 
of it, an insight into the ideal forms of sculpture, 
and regards the images of statesmen and 
philosophers, as well as epic and dramatic heroes, 
from the artistic point of view. For those who 
act, as well as those who create and think, have, 
in those beautiful days of Greece, this plastic 
character. They are great and free, and have 
grown up on the soil of their own individuality, 
creating themselves out of themselves, and 
moulding themselves to what they were, and 
willed to be. The age of Pericles was rich in 
such characters ; Pericles himself, Pheidias, 
Plato, above all Sophocles, Thucydides also, 
Xenophon and Socrates, each in his own order, 
the perfection of one remaining undiminished by 
that of the others. They are ideal artists of 
themselves, cast each in one flawless mould, 
works of art, which stand before us as an 
immortal presentment of the gods. Of this 
modelling also are those bodily works of art, the 
victors in the Olympic games ; yes ! and even 
Phryne, who, as the most beautiful of women, 

219 



THE RENAISSANCE 

ascended naked out of the water, in the presence 
of assembled Greece." 

This key to the understanding of the Greek 
spirit, Winckelmann possessed in his own nature, 
itself like a relic of classical antiquity, laid open 
by accident to our alien, modern atmosphere. 
To the criticism of that consummate Greek 
modelling he brought not only his culture but 
his temperament. We have seen how definite 
was the leading motive of that culture ; how, like 
some central root-fibre, it maintained the well- 
rounded unity of his life through a thousand dis- 
tractions. Interests not his, nor meant for him, 
never disturbed him. In morals, as in criticism, 
he followed the clue of instinct, of an unerring 
instinct. Penetrating into the antique world by 
his passion, his temperament, he enunciated no 
formal principles, always hard and one-sided. 
Minute and anxious as his culture was, he never 
became one-sidedly self-analytical. Occupied 
ever with himself, perfecting himself and 
developing his genius, he was not content, as 
so often happens with such natures, that the 
atmosphere between him and other minds should 
be thick and clouded ; he was ever jealously 
refining his meaning into a form, express, clear, 
objective. This temperament he nurtured and 
invigorated by friendships which kept him always 
in direct contact with the spirit of youth. The 
beauty of the Greek statues was a sexless beauty : 
the statues of the gods had the least traces of sex. 

220 



WINCKELMANN 

Here there is a moral sexlessness, a kind of 
ineffectual wholeness of nature, yet with a true 
beauty and significance of its own. 

One result of this temperament is a serenity 
Heiterkeit which characterises Winckelmann's 
handling of the sensuous side of Greek art. 
This serenity is, perhaps, in great measure, a 
negative quality : it is the absence of any sense 
of want, or corruption, or shame. With the 
sensuous element in Greek art he deals in the 
pagan manner ; and what is implied in that ? 
It has been sometimes said that art is a means of 
escape from " the tyranny of the senses." It 
may be so for the spectator : he may find that 
the spectacle of supreme works of art takes from 
the life of the senses something of its turbid 
fever. But this is possible for the spectator only 
because the artist, in producing those works, has 
gradually sunk his intellectual and spiritual ideas 
in sensuous form. He may live, as Keats lived, 
a pure life ; but his soul, like that of Plato's false 
astronomer, becomes more and more immersed 
in sense, until nothing which lacks the appeal to 
sense has interest for him. How could such an 
one ever again endure the greyness of the ideal 
or spiritual world ? The spiritualist is satisfied 
as he watches the escape of the sensuous elements 
from his conceptions ; his interest grows, as the 
dyed garment bleaches in the keener air. But the 
artist steeps his thought again and again into the 
fire of colour. To the Greek this immersion in 

221 



THE RENAISSANCE 

the sensuous was, religiously, at least, indifferent. 
Greek sensuousness, therefore, does not fever the 
conscience : it is shameless and childlike. 
Christian asceticism, on the other hand, discredit- 
ing the slightest touch of sense, has from time to 
time provoked into strong emphasis the contrast 
or antagonism to itself, of the artistic life, with its 
inevitable sensuousness. / did but taste a little 
honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand^ 
and lo! I must die. It has sometimes seemed hard 
to pursue that life without something of conscious 
disavowal of a spiritual world ; and this imparts 
to genuine artistic interests a kind of intoxication. 
From this intoxication Winckelmann is free : he 
fingers those pagan marbles with unsinged hands, 
with no sense of shame or loss. That is to deal 
with the sensuous side of art in the pagan manner. 
The longer we contemplate that Hellenic 
ideal, in which man is at unity with himself, 
with his physical nature, with the outward 
world, the more we may be inclined to regret 
that he should ever have passed beyond it, to 
contend for a perfection that makes the blood 
turbid, and frets the flesh, and discredits the 
actual world about us. But if he was to be 
saved from the ennui which ever attaches itself 
to realisation, even the realisation of the perfect 
life, it was necessary that a conflict should come, 
that some sharper note should grieve the exist- 
ing harmony, and the spirit chafed by it beat 
out at last only a larger and profounder music. 

222 



WINCKELMANN 

In Greek tragedy this conflict has begun : man 
finds himself face to face with rival claims. 
Greek tragedy shows how such a conflict may be 
treated with serenity, how the evolution of it may 
be a spectacle of the dignity, not of the impotence, 
of the human spirit. But it is not only in tragedy 
that the Greek spirit showed itself capable of thus 
bringing joy out of matter in itself full of dis- 
couragements. Theocritus too strikes often a 
note of romantic sadness. But what a blithe and 
steady poise, above these discouragements, in a 
clear and sunny stratum of the air ! 

Into this stage of Greek achievement Winckel- 
mann did not enter. Supreme as he is where 
his true interest lay, his insight into the typical 
unity and repose of the highest sort of sculpture 
seems to have involved limitation in another 
direction. His conception of art excludes that 
bolder type of it which deals confidently and 
serenely with life, conflict, evil. Living in a 
world of exquisite but abstract and colourless 
form, he could hardly have conceived of the 
subtle and penetrative, yet somewhat grotesque 
art of the modern world. What would he have 
thought of Gilliatt, in Victor Hugo's Travailleurs 
de la Mer, or of the bleeding mouth of Fantine 
in the first part of Les Miserables^ penetrated as 
those books are with a sense of beauty, as lively 
and transparent as that of a Greek ? Nay, a sort 
of preparation for the romantic temper is notice- 
able even within the limits of the Greek ideal itself, 

223 



THE RENAISSANCE 

which for his part Winckelmann failed to see. 
For Greek religion has not merely its mournful 
mysteries of Adonis, of Hyacinthus, of Demeter, 
but it is conscious also of the fall of earlier divine 
dynasties. Hyperion gives way to Apollo, 
Oceanus to Poseidon. Around the feet of that 
tranquil Olympian family still crowd the weary 
shadows of an earlier, more formless, divine world. 
The placid minds even of Olympian gods are 
troubled with thoughts of a limit to duration, of 
inevitable decay, of dispossession. Again, the 
supreme and colourless abstraction of those divine 
forms, which is the secret of their repose, is also 
a premonition of the fleshless, consumptive refine- 
ments of the pale, medieval artists. That high 
indifference to the outward, that impassivity, has 
already a touch of the corpse in it : we see already 
Angelico and the Master of the Passion in the 
artistic future. The suppression of the sensuous, 
the shutting of the door upon it, the ascetic interest, 
may be even now foreseen. Those abstracted gods, 
" ready to melt out their essence fine into the 
winds," who can fold up their flesh as a garment, 
and still remain themselves, seem already to feel 
that bleak air, in which like Helen of Troy, they 
wander as the spectres of the middle age. 

Gradually, as the world came into the church, 
an artistic interest, native in the human soul, 
reasserted its claims. But Christian art was still 
dependent on pagan examples, building the 

224 



WINCKELMANN 

shafts of pagan temples into its churches, 
perpetuating the form of the basilica^ in later 
times working the disused amphitheatres as stone 
quarries. The sensuous expression of ideas 
which unreservedly discredit the world of sense, 
was the delicate problem which Christian art 
had before it. If we think of medieval painting, 
as it ranges from the early German schools, still 
with something of the air of the charnel-house 
about them, to the clear loveliness of Perugino, 
we shall see how that problem was solved. 
In the very " worship of sorrow " the native 
blitheness of art asserted itself. The religious 
spirit, as Hegel says, "smiled through its tears." 
So perfectly did the young Raphael infuse that 
Heiterkeit, that pagan blitheness, into religious 
works, that his picture of Saint Agatha at 
Bologna became to Goethe a step in the evolution 
of Iphigenie. 1 But in proportion as the gift of 
smiling was found once more, there came also an 
aspiration towards that lost antique art, some 
relics of which Christian art had buried in itself, 
ready to work wonders when their day came. 

The history of art has suffered as much as 
any history by trenchant and absolute divisions. 
Pagan and Christian art are sometimes harshly 
opposed, and the Renaissance is represented as a 
fashion which set in at a definite period. That 
is the superficial view : the deeper view is that 
which preserves the identity of European culture. 

1 Italidniscbe Reise. Bologna, 19 Oct. 1776. 
Q 225 



THE RENAISSANCE 

The two are really continuous ; and there is a 
sense in which it may be said that the Renaissance 
was an uninterrupted effort of the middle age, 
that it was ever taking place. When the actual 
relics of the antique were restored to the world, 
in the view of the Christian ascetic it was as if 
an ancient plague-pit had been opened. All the 
world took the contagion of the life of nature 
and of the senses. And now it was seen that the 
medieval spirit too had done something for the 
new fortunes of the antique. By hastening the 
decline of art, by withdrawing interest from it 
and yet keeping unbroken the thread of its 
traditions, it had suffered the human mind to 
repose itself, that when day came it might awake, 
with eyes refreshed, to those ancient, ideal forms. 
The aim of a right criticism is to place 
Winckelmann in an intellectual perspective, of 
which Goethe is the foreground. For, after all, 
he is infinitely less than Goethe ; and it is chiefly 
because at certain points he comes in contact 
with Goethe, that criticism entertains considera- 
tion of him. His relation to modern culture is a 
peculiar one. He is not of the modern world ; nor 
is he wholly of the eighteenth century, although 
so much of his outer life is characteristic of it. 
But that note of revolt against the eighteenth 
century, which we detect in Goethe, was struck 
by Winckelmann. Goethe illustrates a union of 
the Romantic spirit, in its adventure, its variety, 
its profound subjectivity of soul, with Hellenism, 

226 



WINCKELMANN 

in its transparency, its rationality, its desire of 
beauty that marriage of Faust and Helena, of 
which the art of the nineteenth century is the 
child, the beautiful lad Euphorion, as Goethe 
conceives him, on the crags, in the " splendour of 
battle and in harness as for victory," his brows 
bound with light. 1 Goethe illustrates, too, the 
preponderance in this marriage of the Hellenic 
element ; and that element, in its true essence, 
was made known to him by Winckelmann. 

Breadth, centrality, with blitheness and repose, 
are the marks of Hellenic culture. Is such 
culture a lost art ? The local, accidental colouring 
of its own age has passed from it ; and the great- 
ness that is dead looks greater when every link 
with what is slight and vulgar has been severed. 
We can only see it at all in the reflected, refined 
light which a great education creates for us. 
Can we bring down that ideal into the gaudy, 
perplexed light of modern life ? 

Certainly, for us of the modern world, with 
its conflicting claims, its entangled interests, 
distracted by so many sorrows, with many pre- 
occupations, so bewildering an experience, the 
problem of unity with ourselves, in blitheness 
and repose, is far harder than it was for the Greek 
within the simple terms of antique life. Yet, 
not less than ever, the intellect demands 
completeness, centrality. It is this which 
Winckelmann imprints on the imagination of 

1 Faust, Th. it. Act. 3. 
227 



THE RENAISSANCE 

Goethe, at the beginning of life, in its original 
and simplest form, as in a fragment of Greek art 
itself, stranded on that littered, indeterminate 
shore of Germany in the eighteenth century. In 
Winckelmann, this type comes to him, not as 
in a book or a theory, but more importunately, 
because in a passionate life, in a personality. For 
Goethe, possessing all modern interests, ready 
to be lost in the perplexed currents of modern 
thought, he defines, in clearest outline, the 
eternal problem of culture balance, unity with 
one's self, consummate Greek modelling. 

It could no longer be solved, as in Phryne 
ascending naked out of the water, by perfection 
of bodily form, or any joyful union with the 
external world : the shadows had grown too long, 
the light too solemn, for that. It could hardly be 
solved, as in Pericles or Pheidias, by the direct 
exercise of any single talent : amid the manifold 
claims of our modern intellectual life, tHat could 
only Tiave ended in a thin, one-sided growth. 
Goethe's Hellenism was of another order, the 
Allgemeinheit and Heiterkeit, the completeness and 
serenity, of a watchful, exigent intellectualism. 
Im Ganzen, Guten, Wahren^ resolut zu leben : is 
Goethe's description^ of his own higher life ; and 
what is meant by life in the whole im Ganzen ? 
It means the life of one for whom, over and over 
again, what was once precious has become 
indifferent. Every one who aims at the life of 
culture is met by many forms of it, arising out 

228 



WINCKELMANN 

of the intense, laborious, one-sided development 
of some special talent. They are the brightest 
enthusiasms the world has to show : and it is not 
their part to weigh the claims which this or that 
alien form of genius makes upon them. But the 
proper instinct of self-culture cares not so much 
to reap all that those various forms of genius can 
give, as to find in them its own strength. The 
demand of the intellect is to feel itself alive. It 
must see into the laws, the operation, the 
intellectual reward of every divided form of 
culture ; but only that it may measure the 
relation between itself and them. It struggles 
with those forms till its secret is won from each, 
and then lets each fall back into its place, in the 
supreme, artistic view of life. With a kind of 
passionate coldness, such natures rejoice to be 
away from and past their former selves, and above 
all, they are jealous of that abandonment to one 
special gift which really limits their capabilities. 
It would have been easy for Goethe, with ItHe 
gift of a sensuous nature, to let it overgrow him. 
It comes easily and naturally, perhaps, to certain 
" other-worldly " natures to be even as the Schom 
Seele, that ideal of gentle pietism, in Wilhelm 
Melster : but jto the large vision of Goethe, this 
seemed to be a phase of life that a man might 
feel all round, and leave behind him. Again, it 
is easy to indulge the commonplace metaphysical 
instinct. But a taste for metaphysics may be one 
of those things which we must renounce, if we 

229 



THE RENAISSANCE 

mean to mould our lives to artistic perfection. 
Philosophy serves culture, not by the fancied gift 
of absolute or transcendental knowledge, but by 
suggesting questions which help one to detect 
the passion, and strangeness, and dramatic con- 
trasts of life. 

But Goethe's culture did not remain " behind 
the veil " : it ever emerged in the practical 
functions of art, in actual production. For him 
the problem came to be : Can the blitheness 
and universality of the antique ideal be com- 
municated to artistic productions, which shall 
contain the fulness of the experience of the 
modern world ? We have seen that the develop- 
ment of the various forms of art has corresponded 
to the development of the thoughts of man 
concerning humanity, to the growing revelation 
of the mind to itself. Sculpture corresponds to 
the unperplexed, emphatic outlines of Hellenic 
humanism ; painting to the mystic depth and 
intricacy of the middle age ; music and poetry 
have their fortune in the modern world. 

Let us understand by poetry all literary pro- 
duction which attains the power of giving pleasure 
by its form, as distinct from its matter. Only in 
this varied literary form can art command that 
width, variety, delicacy of resources, which will 
enable it to deal with the conditions of modern 
life. What modern art has to do in the service 
of culture is so to rearrange the details of modern 
life, so to reflect it, that it may satisfy the spirit. 

230 



WINCKELMANN 

And what does the spirit need in the face of 
modern life ? The sense of freedom. That 
naive, rough sense of freedom, which supposes 
man's will to be limited, if at all, only by a will 
stronger than his, he can never have again. 
The attempt to represent it in art would have so 
little verisimilitude that it would be flat and 
uninteresting. The chief factor in the thoughts 
of the modern mind concerning itself is the 
intricacy, the universality of natural law, even in 
the moral order. For us, necessity is not, as of 
old, a sort of mythological personage without us, 
with whom we can do warfare. It is rather a 
magic web woven through and through us, like 
that magnetic system of which modern science 
speaks, penetrating us with a network, subtler 
than our subtlest nerves, yet bearing in it the 
central forces of the world. Can art represent men 
and women in these bewildering toils so as to give 
the spirit at least an equivalent for the sense of free- 
dom f Certainly, in Goethe's romances, and even 
more in the romances of Victor Hugo, we have 
high examples of modern art dealing thus with 
modern life, regarding that life as the modern mind 
must regard it, yet reflecting upon it blitheness 
and repose. Natural laws we shall never modify, 
embarrass us as they may ; but there is still 
something in the nobler or less noble attitude 
with which we watch their fatal combinations. 
In those romances of Goethe and Victor Hugo, 
in some excellent work done after them, this 

231 



THE RENAISSANCE 

entanglement, this network of law, becomes the 
tragic situation, in which certain groups of noble 
men and women work out for themselves a 
supreme Denouement. Who, if he saw through 
all, would fret against the chain of circumstance 
which endows one at the end with those great 
experiences ? 

1867. 



23* 



CONCLUSION 1 

Acyei TTOV H/Da/cXtTos ort iravra X^P** KG " 



To regard all things and principles of things as 
inconstant modes or fashions has more and more 
become the tendency of modern thought. Let 
us begin with that which is without our 
physical life. Fix upon it in one of its more 
exquisite intervals, the moment, for instance, of 
delicious recoil from the flood of water in 
summer heat. What Is the whole physical life 
in that moment but a combination of natural 
elements to which science gives their names ? 
But those elements, phosphorus and lime and 
'delicate fibres, are present not in the human 
body alone : we detect them in places most 
remote from it. Our physical life is a perpetual 
motion of them the passage of the blood, the 
waste and repairing of the lenses of the eye, 

1 This brief " Conclusion " was omitted in the second edition 
of this book, as I conceived it might possibly mislead some of those 
young men into whose hands it might fall. On the whole, I have 
thought it best to reprint it here, with some slight changes which 
bring it closer to my original meaning. I have dealt more fully in 
Marius the Epicurean with the thoughts suggested by it. 

233 



THE RENAISSANCE 

the modification of the tissues of the brain under 
every ray of light and sound processes which 
science reduces to simpler and more elementary 
forces. Like the elements of which we are 
composed, the action of these forces extends 
beyond us : it rusts iron and ripens corn. Far 
out on every side of us those elements are 
broadcast, driven in many currents ; and birth and 
gesture and death and the springing of violets 
from the grave are but a few out of ten thousand 
resultant combinations. That clear, perpetual 
outline of face and limb is but an image of ours, 
under which we group them a design in a web, 
the actual threads of which pass out beyond it. 
This at least of flamelike our life has, that it is 
but the concurrence, renewed from moment to 
moment, of forces parting sooner or later on their 
ways. 

Or if we begin with the inward world of 
thought and feeling, the whirlpool is still more 
rapid, the flame more eager and devouring. 
There it is no longer the gradual darkening of 
the eye, the gradual fading of colour from the wall 
movements of the shore-side, where the water 
flows down indeed, though in apparent rest but 
the race of the mid-stream, a drift of momentary 
acts of sight and passion and thought. At first 
sight experience seems to bury us under a flood 
of external objects, pressing upon us with a sharp 
and importunate reality, calling us out of ourselves 
in a thousand forms of action. But when 

234 



CONCLUSION 

reflexion begins to play upon those objects they 
are dissipated under its influence ; the cohesive 
force seems suspended like some trick of magic ; 
each object is loosed into a group of impressions 
colour, odour, texture in the mind of the 
observer. And if we continue to dwell in 
thought on this world, not of objects in the 
solidity with which language invests them, but 
of impressions, unstable, flickering, inconsistent, 
which burn and are extinguished with our 
consciousness of them, it contracts still further : 
the whole scope of observation is dwarfed into 
the narrow chamber of the individual mind. 
Experience, already reduced to a group of 
impressions, is ringed round for each one of us 
by that thick wall of personality through which 
no real voice has ever pierced on its way to us, 
or from us to that which we can only conjecture 
to be without. Every one of those impressions 
is the impression of the individual in his isolation, 
each mind keeping as a solitary prisoner its own 
dream of a world. Analysis goes a step farther 
still, and assures us that those impressions of the 
individual mind to which, for each one of us, 
experience dwindles down, are in perpetual 
flight ; that each of them is limited by time, 
and that as time is infinitely divisible, each of 
them is infinitely divisible also ; all that is actual 
in it being a single moment, gone while we try 
to apprehend it, of which it may ever be more 
truly said that it has ceased to be than that it is. 

235 



THE RENAISSANCE 

To such a tremulous wisp constantly re-forming 
itself on the stream, to a single sharp impression, 
with a sense in it, a relic more or less fleeting, of 
such moments gone by, what is real in our life 
fines itself down. It is with this movement, 
with the passage and dissolution of impressions, 
images, sensations, that analysis leaves off that 
continual vanishing away, that strange, perpetual 
weaving and unweaving of ourselves. 

Philosophiren, says Novalis, 1st dephlegmatisiren 
vfofficire??. The service of philosophy, of 
speculative culture, towards the human spirit, is 
to rouse, to startle it to a life of constant and eager 
observation. Every moment some form grows 
perfect in hand or face ; some tone on the hills 
or the sea is choicer than the rest ; some mood 
of passion or insight or intellectual excitement is 
irresistibly real and attractive to us, for that 
moment only. Not the fruit of experience, but 
experience itself, is the end. A counted number 
of pulses only is given to us of a variegated, 
dramatic life. How may we see in them all 
that is to be seen in them by the finest senses? 
How shall we pass most swiftly from point to 
point, and be present always at the focus where 
the greatest number of vital forces unite in their 
purest energy ? 

To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, 
to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life. In a 
sense it might even be said that our failure is to 
form habits : for, after all, habit is relative to a 

236 



CONCLUSION 

stereotyped world, and meantime it is only the 
roughness of the eye that makes any two persons, 
things, situations, seem alike. While all melts 
under our feet, we may well grasp at any exquisite 
passion, or any contribution to knowledge that 
seems by a lifted horizon to set the spirit free for 
a moment, or any stirring of the senses, strange 
dyes, strange colours, and curious odours, or 
work of the artist's hands, or the face of one's 
friend. Not to discriminate every moment 
some passionate attitude in those about us, and in 
the very brilliancy of their gifts some tragic divid- 
ing of forces on their ways, is, on this short day 
of frost and sun, to sleep before evening. With 
this sense of the splendour of our experience and 
of its awful brevity, gathering all we are into one 
desperate effort to see and touch, we shall hardly 
have time to make theories about the things we 
see and touch. What we have to do is to be for 
ever curiously testing new opinions and courting 
new impressions, never acquiescing in a facile 
orthodoxy of Comte, or of Hegel, or of our own. 
Philosophical theories or ideas, as points of view, 
instruments of criticism, may help us to gather 
up what might otherwise pass unregarded 
by us. " Philosophy is the microscope of 
thought." The theory or idea or system which 
requires of us the sacrifice of any part of 
this experience, in consideration of some* interest 
into which we cannot enter, or some abstract 
theory we have not identified with ourselves, 

237 



THE RENAISSANCE 

or of what is only conventional, has no real 
claim upon us. 

One of the most beautiful passages of 
Rousseau is that in the sixth book of the 
Confessions, where he describes the awakening 
in him of the literary sense. An undefinable 
taint of death had clung always about him, and 
now in early manhood he believed himself 
smitten by mortal disease. He asked himself 
how he might make as much as possible of the 
interval that remained ; and he was not biassed 
by anything in his previous life when he decided 
that it must be by intellectual excitement, which 
he found just then in the clear, fresh writings 
of Voltaire. Well ! we are all condamnes, as 
Victor Hugo says : we are all under sentence of 
death but with a sort of indefinite reprieve 
les hommes sont tons condamnes a mort avec des sursis 
indefinis : we have an interval, and then our place 
knows us no more. Some spend this interval 
in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, 
at least among " the children of this world/' in 
art and song. For our one chance lies in 
expanding that interval, in getting as many 
pulsations as possible into the given time. Great 
passions may give us this quickened sense of life, 
ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of 
enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, 
which come naturally to many of us. Only be 
sure it is passion that it does yield you this 
fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness. 

238 



CONCLUSION 

Of such wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of 
beauty, the love of art for its own sake, has most. 
For art comes to you proposing frankly to give 
nothing but the highest quality to your moments 
as they pass, and simply for those moments' sake, 

1868. 



THE END 



Printed by R. & R. CI.ARK, LIMITED, Edinburgh. 



So 



LIBRARY EDITION OF 

THE WORKS 

OF 

WALTER PATER 

In Ten Volumes. With decorated backs. 8vo. 
73. 6d. net each. 

I. THE RENAISSANCE: STUDIES IN ART 
AND POETRY. 

II. AND III. MARIUS THE EPICUREAN. In 
Two Vols. 

IV. IMAGINARY PORTRAITS. 
V. APPRECIATIONS. With an Essay on " Style." 

VI. PLATO AND PLATONISM. A Series of 
Lectures. 

VII. GREEK STUDIES. A Series of Essays. 

VIII. MISCELLANEOUS STUDIES. A Series of 
Essays. 

IX. GASTON DE LATOUR. An unfinished Romance. 
X. ESSAYS FROM "THE GUARDIAN/' 
MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD., LONDON. 



N 

6915 
P3 
1919 



Pater, Walter Horatio 
The Renaissance 




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